Research opportunities plentiful for next generation batteries

May 22, 2013 by Lynn Yarris
Berkeley Lab spin-off company PolyPlus has created an entire line of lithium-metal batteries using their PLE technology.

(Phys.org) —In the opening scene of the iconic movie of the 1960s, The Graduate, Benjamin Braddock, at a party to celebrate his college degree, is given one word of advice for his future: "Plastics." Were young Benjamin to be receiving that advice today the word would be: "Batteries." Steve Visco of Berkeley Lab's Materials Sciences Division had plenty of encouraging words for young graduates on the opportunities to be had in next generation battery research. Speaking at the recent national meeting of the American Chemical Society in New Orleans, Visco discussed the enormous progress his own start-up company, PolyPlus, has made in developing lithium-metal batteries with unprecedented energy density, and how the ever-growing need for electrical energy storage will require continued innovation and development in battery research.

"As the world moves towards electrification of transportation and increased use of renewables for , the demand for advanced secondary batteries has already fueled a global race for more efficient systems," Visco said. "In order to maintain a competitive position, the U.S. will need to innovate, both in the development of step-change technologies and in cost-competitive manufacturing of those products."

The main challenge for battery science has always been to maximize the amount of stored energy while maintaining stable electrode-electrolyte interfaces. When Visco began his at Berkeley Lab in the late 1980s, the gold standards in were nickel-cadmium and lead-acid. In 1991, Visco and colleagues including Lutgard De Jonghe, also with Berkeley Lab's Materials Sciences Division, formed PolyPlus, based on promising science with lithium-sulfur batteries. Shortly thereafter, Sony released the first lithium-ion batteries and a new gold standard was set.

Visco and his colleagues at PolyPlus rose to this new challenge with a major breakthrough of their own, the protected lithium electrode (PLE). The PLE technology enabled the PolyPlus lithium-water battery to achieve the highest ever recorded at 1,300 watt-hour per kilogram – several hundred times better than the maximum delivered by present day lithium-ion batteries. The key to the PLE technology's success is the use of a water-stable, solid-state, lithium-conducting membrane to shield the lithium metal core from the external environment. Lithium is lightweight and has an excellent electrochemical potential but is so highly reactive it rapidly corrodes upon contact with water. With the PLE technology, the lithium metal anode is sealed within a membrane that lets lithium ions pass through but keeps out water and air.

"The PLE membrane is highly conductive to lithium ions, but impervious to liquids and gases," says Visco who has demonstrated the power of the PLE technology by safely dropping lithium batteries into a fish tank. "This allows the lithium core to be electrochemically active but chemically isolated from the external electrolyte, which in turn opens the door to lithium-air, lithium-water and lithium-sulfur batteries."

The PLE technology has won PolyPlus extensive recognition, including selection by TIME magazine as one of the 50 Best Inventions of 2011, a 2012 Edison Award and two grants from DOE's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). However, while the technology has addressed the reactivity problem for lithium-metal batteries, rechargeability remains a major hurdle. Whereas lithium-ion batteries can be recharged thousands of times, the best batteries can only be recharged a few hundred times. Progress is being made, however.

"PolyPlus has developed 8 amp-hour capacity primary lithium-air cells that deliver more than 800 watt hours/kilogram and we're making excellent progress with rechargeable lithium-air batteries," Visco said.

PolyPlus has also announced the development of a revolutionary aqueous lithium-sulfur battery for which it won an ARPA-E grant. PolyPlus expects to market the world's first rechargeable aqueous lithium-sulfur battery within the next three years, followed by introduction of the rechargeable lithium-air .

Explore further: Team observes real-time charging of a lithium-air battery

More information: polyplus.com/

Related Stories

Progress made in building rechargeable lithium-air battery

Jul 20, 2012

(Phys.org) -- Researchers in the United Kingdom have taken another step towards proving that so named lithium-air (Li-O2) batteries might one day become practical. Up to now the problem has been using the technology to build a ...

Study paves way for larger, safer lithium ion batteries

Jan 23, 2013

(Phys.org)—Looking toward improved batteries for charging electric cars and storing energy from renewable but intermittent solar and wind, scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory have developed the ...

Two takes on lithium-ion batteries

Apr 16, 2013

Lithium-ion batteries have transformed our lives. Without them, we wouldn't have laptop computers or cell phones—at least, not the long-lived, lightweight kindwe're used to—and in the near future they ...

Recommended for you

Finalists named in Bloomberg European city contest

3 hours ago

Amsterdam wants to create an online game to get unemployed young people engaged in finding jobs across Europe. Schaerbeek, Belgium, envisions using geothermal mapping to give households personalized rundowns of steps to save ...

Bloomberg invests $5M in solar-powered lamp

16 hours ago

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's foundation has announced a $5 million investment in an artsy-looking solar-powered lamp designed for use in off-grid populations in Africa.

Tesla delivers first China cars, plans expansion

22 hours ago

Tesla Motors Inc. delivered its first eight electric sedans to customers in China on Tuesday and CEO Elon Musk said the company will build a nationwide network of charging stations and service centers as ...

Communities can drive urgent switch to clean energy

23 hours ago

Australia will continue to lag behind countries like the United States and Germany in heeding the UN's latest call to urgently switch to clean sources of energy unless the burgeoning community energy sector ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Robot scouts rooms people can't enter

(Phys.org) —Firefighters, police officers and military personnel are often required to enter rooms with little information about what dangers might lie behind the door. A group of engineering students at ...

Finalists named in Bloomberg European city contest

Amsterdam wants to create an online game to get unemployed young people engaged in finding jobs across Europe. Schaerbeek, Belgium, envisions using geothermal mapping to give households personalized rundowns of steps to save ...

Internet TV case: US justices skeptical, concerned

Grappling with fast-changing technology, U.S. Supreme Court justices debated Tuesday whether they can protect the copyrights of TV broadcasters to the shows they send out without strangling innovations in ...

Brazil passes trailblazing Internet privacy law

Brazil's Congress on Tuesday passed comprehensive legislation on Internet privacy in what some have likened to a web-user's bill of rights, after stunning revelations its own president was targeted by US ...

In the 'slime jungle' height matters

(Phys.org) —In communities of microbes, akin to 'slime jungles', cells evolve not just to grow faster than their rivals but also to push themselves to the surface of colonies where they gain the best access ...

New alfalfa variety resists ravenous local pest

(Phys.org) —Cornell plant breeders have released a new alfalfa variety with some resistance against the alfalfa snout beetle, which has ravaged alfalfa fields in nine northern New York counties and across ...