(Yet Another) New Battery Design Shows Big Promise

March 19, 2023

I generally discount those click baiting all-caps “THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING” headlines that turn out to be not really all that big a deal.
But this release from Argonne National Lab does get my attention..

Argonne National Lab:

Many owners of electric cars have wished for a battery pack that could power their vehicle for more than a thousand miles on a single charge. Researchers at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) and U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory have developed a lithium-air battery that could make that dream a reality. The team’s new battery design could also one day power domestic airplanes and long-haul trucks.

The main new component in this lithium-air battery is a solid electrolyte instead of the usual liquid variety. Batteries with solid electrolytes are not subject to the safety issue  with the liquid electrolytes used in lithium-ion and other battery types, which can overheat and catch fire.

More importantly, the team’s battery chemistry with the solid electrolyte can potentially boost the energy density by as much as four times above lithium-ion batteries, which translates into longer driving range.

“For over a decade, scientists at Argonne and elsewhere have been working overtime to develop a lithium battery that makes use of the oxygen in air,” said Larry Curtiss, an Argonne Distinguished Fellow.  ​“The lithium-air battery has the highest projected energy density of any battery technology being considered for the next generation of batteries beyond lithium-ion.”

In past lithium-air designs, the lithium in a lithium metal anode moves through a liquid electrolyte to combine with oxygen during the discharge, yielding lithium peroxide (Li2O2) or superoxide (LiO2) at the cathode. The lithium peroxide or superoxide is then broken back down into its lithium and oxygen components during the charge. This chemical sequence stores and releases energy on demand.

The team’s new solid electrolyte is composed of  a ceramic polymer material made from relatively inexpensive elements in nanoparticle form. This new solid enables chemical reactions that produce lithium oxide (Li2O) on discharge.

“The chemical reaction for lithium superoxide or peroxide only involves one or two electrons stored per oxygen molecule, whereas that for lithium oxide involves four electrons,” said Argonne chemist Rachid Amine. More electrons stored means higher energy density.

The team’s lithium-air design is the first lithium-air battery that has achieved a four-electron reaction at room temperature. It also operates with oxygen supplied by air from the surrounding environment. The capability to run with air avoids the need for oxygen tanks to operate, a problem with earlier designs.

The team employed many different techniques to establish that a four-electron reaction was actually taking place. One key technique was transmission electron microscopy (TEM) of the discharge products on the cathode surface, which was carried out at Argonne’s Center for Nanoscale Materials, a DOE Office of Science user facility. The TEM images provided valuable insight into the four-electron discharge mechanism.

Past lithium-air test cells suffered from very short cycle lives. The team established that this shortcoming is not the case for their new battery design by building and operating a test cell for 1000 cycles, demonstrating its stability over repeated charge and discharge.

“With further development, we expect our new design for the lithium-air battery to also reach a record energy density of 1200 watt-hours per kilogram,” said Curtiss. ​“That is nearly four times better than lithium-ion batteries.”

This research was published in a recent issue of Science. Argonne authors include Larry Curtiss, Rachid Amine, Lei Yu, Jianguo Wen, Tongchao Liu, Hsien-Hau Wang, Paul C. Redfern, Christopher Johnson and Khalil Amine. Authors from IIT include Mohammad Asadi, Mohammadreza Esmaeilirad and Ahmad Mosen Harzandi. And Authors from the University of Illinois Chicago include Reza Shahbazian-Yassar, Mahmoud Tamadoni Saray, Nannan Shan and Anh Ngo.

The research was funded by the DOE Vehicle Technologies Office and the Office of Basic Energy Sciences through the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research.

Science – A room temperature rechargeable Li2O-based lithium-air battery enabled by a solid electrolyte:

A lithium-air battery based on lithium oxide (Li2O) formation can theoretically deliver an energy density that is comparable to that of gasoline. Lithium oxide formation involves a four-electron reaction that is more difficult to achieve than the one- and two-electron reaction processes that result in lithium superoxide (LiO2) and lithium peroxide (Li2O2), respectively. By using a composite polymer electrolyte based on Li10GeP2S12 nanoparticles embedded in a modified polyethylene oxide polymer matrix, we found that Li2O is the main product in a room temperature solid-state lithium-air battery. The battery is rechargeable for 1000 cycles with a low polarization gap and can operate at high rates. The four-electron reaction is enabled by a mixed ion–electron-conducting discharge product and its interface with air.


3 Responses to “(Yet Another) New Battery Design Shows Big Promise”

  1. neilrieck Says:

    The following except comes from NewScientist magazine but here’s the Coles Notes version: the current battery (Lead-Sulphur) we use in our automobiles was invented in 1859 then improved over the years to get ~ 50% more energy. The same thing is happening with the current round of Lithium batteries so if history is a guide, inventors will probably not get much better than 50% higher than present (Alert: some new designs coming out of China are already 50% better than what Musk is manufacturing in Nevada). Vaclav Smil appears to be saying that electric airplanes will not be anything more than an experimental curiosity for the foreseeable future. Now here’s my additional two cents worth for cars and planes: a depleted battery weighs mostly the same as a charged battery while a fossil fuel powered system gets lighter as the fuel is depleted.


    Better batteries (Vaclav Smil : NewScientist Issue 3420)
    If we are to replace a large share of fossil fuels with electricity, we must find better ways of storing it. Currently, the potential energy in pumped hydro projects account for more than 90 per cent of electricity storage worldwide. However, when it comes to electrifying transport, what we need are batteries that deliver more energy for their size – more watt-hours per litre (Wh/l).
    In 1859, when Gaston Planté invented the lead-acid cell, it had an energy density of around 60 Wh/l. Today, hundreds of millions of such batteries are under the hoods of vehicles powered by internal combustion engines, and they deliver about 90 Wh/l. Modern nickel-cadmium batteries can store 150 Wh/l. But lithium-ion batteries – developed during the 1980s and used today to power electric cars as well as cellphones, laptops and other portable consumer electronics – are currently the best choice. And they have even more potential. The top commercial lithium-ion performer – used in millions of electric vehicles – is Panasonic’s model 2170, with an energy density of 755 Wh/l. California’s Amprius Technologies is developing lithium batteries that can store 1150 Wh/l, making them an order of magnitude more energy-dense than the best lead-acid storage.
    Despite these improvements, the energy density of batteries remains far inferior to that in the liquid fuels that dominate all forms of transport: petrol rates at 9600 Wh/l, aviation kerosene at 10,300 Wh/l and diesel fuel at 10,700 Wh/l. How fast could we narrow the gap? During the past 50 years, the highest energy density of mass-produced batteries has increased fivefold. If we can match that rate over the next 50 years, we would reach 3750 Wh/l. That would make the electrification of heavy road and maritime transport far easier than it is today, but it would still be insufficient for an electric Boeing 787. We need super-batteries, and the sooner the better.

  2. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    The team’s new solid electrolyte is composed of a ceramic polymer material made from relatively inexpensive elements in nanoparticle form.

    Looks like this is going to be the production challenge, just as silicon is abundant but creating super-dense processing chips represents highly advanced manufacturing techniques.

  3. It absorbs oxygen from the air as it discharges which means it must emit oxygen as it is charged. I would expect this oxygen to have a significant weight. It says the molecule that the oxygen is stored as is lithium oxide (Li2O). Lithium has an atomic weight of 7 and oxygen an atomic weight of 16 making a 14 to 16 ratio of Li to O (very similar). The oxygen that is absorbed and released should weigh a little more than the lithium that participates in the reaction.

    How would this compare to a current electric car? I found this figure for the lithium in a Tesla modes S:

    It is estimated that there’s about 63 kg of lithium in a 70 kWh Tesla Model S battery pack, which weighs over 1,000 lbs (~453 kg).


    That’s about 120 pounds of lithium. So if we’re talking about the same amounts of energy per amounts of lithium, that would mean it has to breath in and exhale over 100 pounds of oxygen per full charge/discharge cycle. It’s still not clear to me whether the higher energy density comes from more energy cycled per amount of lithium or less other material being needed.

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