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Irina Slav

Irina Slav

Irina is a writer for the U.S.-based Divergente LLC consulting firm with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry.

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Is The Latest Lithium Battery Too Good To Be True?

Lithium Mine

The creator of the first lithium-ion battery has just released a new battery cell that could mark the next stage of battery development, offering a huge boost for the electric car industry and beyond.

The solid-state cells that John Goodenough and his team have developed use glass electrolytes instead of liquid electrolytes like the lithium-ion batteries currently use. This means they are incombustible, overcoming one serious problem with other lithium-ion batteries: the so-called dendrites that appear when a battery is being charged too quickly, causing a short circuit and killing the battery.

And that’s just the start. According to the researchers, their battery has at least three times the energy density of other lithium-ion batteries, it has a longer life cycle (a minimum of 1,200 charge-discharge cycles), and it charges more quickly – in minutes instead of hours. On top of all of this, the low-cost battery—yes, it’s cheap—can work in both subzero temperatures (-20 degrees Celsius) and major heat (60 degrees Celsius).

The implications of such an invention are numerous for all devices and systems that use rechargeable batteries. Yet the most important ones seem to be linked to the electric car industry.

For now, electric car adoption is slow; not just because of often prohibitively high prices, but also because of the time it takes to recharge a vehicle. Plus, there is the problem with the dendrites, which automatically means you need to buy a new battery—and a new battery still doesn’t come cheap, even though prices have been falling steadily.

(Click to enlarge)

One additional benefit of the new glass batteries is that they don’t necessarily use lithium: glass electrolytes also work with sodium, which is much more widely available than lithium and can be extracted from seawater. The researcher who began the whole glass electrolyte project and later teamed up with Goodenough and other University of Texas scientists to advance it, Maria Helena Braga, also notes that sodium is cheaper than lithium, thus bringing the price of the final product even lower.

It may sound too good to be true, and lithium miners would certainly hope it is, but Goodenough and Braga are working on several patents, and their battery could hit the market some time in the future. Related: Did The Banks Just Give U.S. Shale A Carte Blanche?

Meanwhile, another company is also working on a safer lithium-ion battery. American Lithium Energy is working on a technology dubbed Safe Core, which, according to a media report, is not much to look at, but does not explode. The company is keeping its cards close to its chest. What’s public is that Soft Core was developed as part of American Lithium’s work for the U.S. military, which needed reliable batteries to power electric vehicles without the danger of having them explode due to a short circuit or explode when the vehicle crashes.

There’s an obvious trend for cheaper, more reliable, and longer-life batteries—there is no other way to make electric cars and energy storage systems mainstream. Future developments would certainly be interesting to watch, as more inventions are likely on the way.

By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com

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  • Bill Simpson on April 10 2017 said:
    I'm no chemist, but a molecule of common table salt, which is available in virtually unlimited quantities from underground salt beds, is composed of a sodium and a chlorine atom. I doubt if getting it from sea water would be cheaper that just digging it out of solid layers of buried salt, like they do for road salt. I can remember an interview with a worker in a salt mine in which he was asked if we would soon run out of salt. He starting laughing, then told the reporter not to worry about that, since large areas of the planet are underlain by thick layers of salt. And the oceans contain trillions of tons of sodium chloride, along with most other elements, including uranium.
    If the new battery is as good as they claim, it will change the world. You could use wind and solar power to generate most electricity, because battery storage could power the grid during the night. Existing lithium batteries are still on the high cost side to do that. And concentrated lithium is rare, compared to sodium. A viable sodium battery would change everything.
    Keep your fingers crossed because as it now stands, once oil production begins to decline (peak oil) we will be in serious trouble without something affordable to take up the slack rather quickly. A better, cheaper battery could do that.
  • Owen on April 10 2017 said:
    Actually I believe they were referring to sodium metal as a replacement for Lithium. Not sodium chloride. Though you're right it might be easier to simply mine the salt, then create sodium out of it. The only issue with that is sodium metal reacts very...vigorously...to water. So if there was ever corrosion where water could enter, or worse, an accident that damaged the casing the results could easily kill the occupants of the vehicle.
  • Eli on April 11 2017 said:
    Agreed. If this technology pans out and can be scaled (and that's a big IF), then it would be revolutionary. Most scientists are quite skeptical but are willing to listen because of Goodenough's sterling reputation in the field.

    I am still not sure about usefulness for grid storage compared to other stationary storage technologies but as far as vehicles there's no doubt about it - if it's as good as it claims then I can see it replacing most of the existing fleet of vehicles within a generation from introduction and I would not have said so until now as previous "breakthroughs" in the field were just not good-enough ;-) for such an outcome. Expect the valuation of liquid hydrocarbon reserves to drop by at least half. Will cause major disruption to the energy resource dependent countries of the World. We're talking ISIS-level disruption since their entire raison d'être nowadays is to pump stuff out of the ground.
  • Richard Jones on April 21 2017 said:
    Um, lithium batteries don't explode, they burn after a time. Lots of injuries & deaths from exploding and fast burning fossil fuel vehicles, whereas passengers usually have plenty of time to escape a vehicle with a punctured battery.
  • Werner Rhein on April 25 2017 said:
    Why are all this negativity about something that will change the world and maybe safe us from extinction?
    I haven't heard of to many burning electric vehicles as a firefighter but a lot of liquid carbohydrate fuelled vehicles burn.
    Salt is available everywhere compared to lithium.
    Why work against each other in a desperate time.

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