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Newfound Power

With the rise of electric vehicles (EVs), many car owners wondered if it would be possible to have a longer range on a single charge. With newfound research by researchers at the Illinois Institute of Technology and Argonne National Laboratory, this might be possible. 


Their new design incorporates a solid electrolyte in place of the liquid type in current lithium-air batteries. Solid-state electrolytes have advantages such as lower flammability and improved durability. However, the main feature of this new design is its ability to boost energy density, meaning cars with this battery will last longer. This solid electrolyte is made of ceramic polyester material in nanoparticle form, which sanctions a reaction that produces lithium oxide.


The “air” in this lithium-air battery comes from the environment of the cathode, flowing in through tiny holes. The oxygen in the air reacts with lithium ions that pass through the solid-state electrolyte.


Past designs have shown that the lithium within a metal anode reacts with oxygen to become lithium peroxide or superperoxide. This then breaks down into its original components, which restarts the cycle. This was relevant to the group’s research for the chemical reaction for lithium peroxide, as it only requires one or two electrons for each oxygen molecule. Meanwhile, the reaction for lithium oxide requires four electrons. 


The more electrons used and stored, the higher the energy density of the electrochemical cell. To the researcher’s advantage, this new design is the first lithium-air battery that can obtain a four-electron reaction. The team demonstrated that the reaction was taking place by using different methods. One crucial technique is called transmission electron microscopy. This is used on the cathode surface, providing researchers better comprehension of the four-electron reaction. 


Although researchers do not have a clear explanation of why the reaction occurs, it is still one step forward to a battery that can power an EV for 1,000 cycles on a single charge. 


With their higher energy density, lithium air batteries can mitigate the need for fossil fuels in various applications. In regard to electric vehicles, EVs with better lithium air batteries would have a better chance of going against gas-powered vehicles, which would help reduce carbon emissions. 


Lithium-air batteries could also help improve the efficiency of renewable energy systems like wind and solar power by storing excess energy in the batteries. During periods of low production, this stored energy can be used, reducing the need for backup power from fossil fuel sources. 


Overall, the new design for lithium-air batteries has the potential to make energy storage more efficient and sustainable, which can help lessen the progression of climate change. 

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