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Tsvetana Paraskova

Tsvetana Paraskova

Tsvetana is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing for news outlets such as iNVEZZ and SeeNews. 

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Is This The End Of The Lithium-Ion Battery?

Researchers have been in a race to find ways to improve lithium-ion batteries. They are also looking to develop alternatives to the lithium-ion battery that would be lower cost and more sustainable to manufacture. And they may just have found one.

Aluminum-based batteries would be cheaper to make, because aluminum is the third most abundant element in the Earth’s crust after oxygen and silicon. Aluminum is also light-weight and could be ideal for use in batteries.  

Yet, for years scientists have stumbled in the research about aluminum batteries because they have yet to crack the code of what materials to use for the anode and cathode of the battery so that it could enable efficient energy storage with enough energy content.

Now scientists from Sweden and Slovenia say they have found a way to have efficient aluminum batteries with lower environmental impact and lower production costs.

Researchers from Sweden’s Chalmers University of Technology and the National Institute of Chemistry in Slovenia came up with a new concept for an aluminum battery design that promises twice the energy density compared to previous aluminum battery versions. 

Compared to the lithium-ion batteries today, the new concept could lead to “markedly lower production costs” of aluminum batteries, the scientists say.

Another advantage is that there already exists an established industry for aluminum manufacturing and recycling. With lithium-ion batteries, recycling is one major issue as few economically feasible technologies for battery recycling currently exist.

The Swedish and Slovenian researchers have come up with a new concept to design aluminum batteries that theoretically overcomes previous challenges with low energy density in today’s aluminum batteries.

The new concept, described in an article in the journal Energy Storage Materials, upends the previous designs of the aluminum battery. So far, designs have used the aluminum as the negative electrode—the anode, while the positive electrode—the cathode—was made of graphite. But graphite doesn’t have enough energy content to be useful in a battery cell.   Related: Chinese Oil Giant Significantly Boosts Shale Reserves

In the new concept, however, the researchers replaced graphite with an organic, nano-structured cathode made of the carbon-based molecule anthraquinone. This organic material in the cathode enables storage of positive charge-carriers from the electrolyte—the solution in which ions move between the electrodes—which enables higher energy density in the battery.  

“Because the new cathode material makes it possible to use a more appropriate charge-carrier, the batteries can make better usage of aluminum’s potential,” Chalmers researcher Niklas Lindahl said in a statement. 

“The material costs and environmental impacts that we envisage from our new concept are much lower than what we see today, making them feasible for large scale usage, such as solar cell parks, or storage of wind energy, for example,” Patrik Johansson, Professor at the Department of Physics at Chalmers, notes.

There are currently no commercially available aluminum batteries, but now the question scientists are asking is whether they can one day replace lithium-ion batteries.

“Of course, we hope that they can. But above all, they can be complementary, ensuring that lithium-ion batteries are only used where strictly necessary,” Johansson says. Related: Oil Prices Fall On Onslaught Of Bearish News

According to the scientist, the team still has much work to do with the electrolyte and charging mechanisms, but they believe that aluminum is generally “a significantly better charge carrier than lithium, since it is multivalent – which means every ion 'compensates' for several electrons.”

“Furthermore, the batteries have the potential to be significantly less environmentally harmful,” Johansson added.

The Swedish-Slovenian team of scientists is not the only one working on aluminum battery breakthroughs. A team at UNSW Sydney said last December that they had found a new way to design rechargeable aluminum batteries by using a large organic chemical compound as the part of the battery that stores energy, which was a fundamental challenge before that.

“Developing batteries using aluminum has received a lot of expectation for delivering high energy to price ratios,” Dr Dong Jun Kim of UNSW’s School of Chemistry said.   

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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Leave a comment
  • Bill Simpson on October 02 2019 said:
    People had better hope it eventually works. Aluminum is very abundant on Earth, lithium isn't. Large scale cheap batteries are needed to utilize wind and solar power to their full potential.
    If we had some more intelligent leadership, we would have followed the advice of admiral Hyman Rickover and conserved the carbon containing fossil fuels to the maximum extent possible, because they are our only cheap source of carbon atoms, which are irreplaceable in hundreds of chemical reactions essential for industry.
    Some genius once said that running out of easy to obtain carbon was the greatest threat to human life above a subsistence existence. Phosphorous needed to grow crops is another fairly near term problem. Peak phosphorous is nearly as great a threat as peak oil, only peak oil will strike much sooner. WW III could very well be fought over the deposits in Morocco, because there is no substitute for it in industry or farming. Whoever controls Morocco could eventually rule the world. Eventually, Morocco will be the most valuable country which ever existed.
  • Michael BERGER on October 02 2019 said:
    Strange you don't know that there's more aluminum that lithium in Tesla lithium ion batteries.
  • Don Bradman on October 02 2019 said:
    Lithium batteries have taken 40 years to develop to the current stage, even if aluminum batteries development time is cut in half they would still be 20 years away. And just to set the record straight mining and processing aluminum is more polluting then lithium and lithium can be recycled more successfully then aluminum.
    Also there is enough lithium to go around for everyone, the reason batteries are expensive is the limited lack of competition when it comes to refining it and lack of large battery megafactories
    to bring the cost of production down. The actual cost of lithium and other minerals in a battery makes up less then 10% of its price, the rest is profits and production cost.
  • Leonard Gauthier on October 06 2019 said:
    ...I suspect that any persons inventing technologies that in any way negatively impact the oil industry will in the near future receive knocks on their doors just after midnight...and looking outside through the curtains, they'll see a local police cruiser with its' lights flashing stopped at the curb out front and 2 tough looking cops in ill-fitting local police uniforms standing on their front porch looking at the door! When the inventor cracks the door open a bit and asks the cops what they want, the cops will reply, "Could we talk to you for a minute, Sir? There's been a problem in the area and we think you might have been involved." The next day the inventor will have a massive purple and red black eye and his invention will be in the garbage can. Patenting new renewable-fuel inventions and/or bragging about them in the newspaper can be very dangerous things to do! Patenting and bragging should only be done AFTER the product is in production and being WIDELY distributed! Heroin dealers don't like it when cocaine dealers invade their territory!

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