MIT Research Conceptualizes Much Lighter Lithium-Air Batteries

The energy-density capability of current battery technology may not be something that’s been keeping you up too much at night. But for anyone with a real interest in the future of EVs, it’s an important subject, because lightweight batteries that can deliver lots of energy are crucial for improving the range of electric cars. Now a team of researchers at MIT has announced that they’ve made significant progress on a technology that could lead to batteries with up to three times the energy density of any battery currently in existence.

The key to this innovation appears to be catalyzing metals. In a paper published this week in Electrochemical and Solid-State Letters, Yang Shao-Horn, an MIT associate professor, along with some of her students and visiting professor Hubert Gasteiger, report on a study showing that electrodes with gold or platinum as a catalyst show a much higher level of activity and efficiency than simple carbon electrodes. Their work sets the stage for further research that could lead to better electrode materials that bear similar properties to these precious metals without the expense.

MIT_Li_Air_Batteries

image via MIT

However, as far as EVs go, Shao-Horn says it is too early to predict how long it may take for this technology to reach commercialization. “It’s a very promising area, but there are many science and engineering challenges to be overcome,” she said, in a statement, noting that if the research truly demonstrates two to three times the energy density of today’s lithium-ion batteries, the likely first applications will be in high-value portable electronics such as computers and cell phones; the technology would only trickle down to vehicles once costs were effectively reduced.

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Susan DeFreitas has covered all manner of green technology for EarthTechling since 2009. She is a graduate of Prescott College for the Liberal Arts and the Environment, and has a background in marketing green businesses. Her work on green living has been featured in Yes! Magazine, the Utne Reader and Natural Home.