Battery breakthroughs of 2019

2019 proved to be a significant year for battery technology advancements, with numerous breakthroughs made that will have major implications on the automotive industry moving forward. From technology that can charge an electric vehicle in just ten minutes to batteries that can pull carbon dioxide from the air, batteries got bigger and better in 2019. Here are some of the breakthroughs that offered the most excitement in 2019.

When charging temperatures go extreme

A general rule of thumb when it comes to batteries is that they should be charged within a certain temperature, ideally between 10°c and 30°c so as not to overheat and decay over time.

However, it has been discovered that charging batteries at a higher temperature can lead to more efficient charging. The issue in the way of this happening however is that it is difficult to do whilst making the process of charging safe.

In October, a research team from Penn State University announced that they had overcome this issue, demonstrating a new battery that can safely charge at temperatures of up to 60°c. The battery heats up in as little as ten minutes before quickly cooling, avoiding the destructive effects heat can have on the battery.

The battery is able to withstand the higher temperatures due to a thin nickel foil which has been attached to the negative terminal of the battery which heats up as electrons flow through it. The foil can then be cooled swiftly, minimising the risk of overheating.

In a demonstration of the technology, the team from Penn State charged the battery at high temperatures across 1,700 cycles. The success of the demonstration led scientists to believe that the efficiency of the battery was equal to charging an electric vehicle for a 320 km to 480 km range in just ten minutes.

Battery charging with a side of CO2

Another breakthrough occurred in October 2019, when a research team from MIT revealed a battery that collects carbon dioxide from the air around us.

The battery, described as an electro-swing battery, uses a stack of electrodes coated in polyanthraquinone to naturally suck up carbon dioxide molecules as the battery charges. The electrodes will continue to absorb molecules until it’s full, when the molecules are released for collection and used as industrial product.

According to the research team developing the electro-swing battery, it can last 7,000 charging cycles with a 30 percent drop in efficiency.

Carbon dioxide battery goes fully rechargeable

Continuing on the theme of carbon dioxide, scientists from the University of Illinois at Chicago unveiled a lithium-carbon dioxide battery that was capable of full rechargeability in 2019.

With scientists exploring new ways of building batteries using ingredients that offer more efficiency and energy density, one possible solution floated has been carbon dioxide. Lithium-carbon dioxide offers energy density seven times greater than lithium-ion, however efforts to build such a battery while maintaining rechargeability have proven futile until now.

The battery developed at the University of Illinois at Chicago uses nanoflakes of molybdenum disulphide built into the cathode, while a hybrid electrolyte consisting of ionic liquid and dimethyl sulfoxide is also incorporated to prevent the build-up of carbon on the battery’s catalyst. This allows charging to be unaffected by carbon build-up over time.

Grid-level energy storage with a heart of molten silicon

With renewable energies sources such as solar and wind becoming more popular, storing excess power during off-peak times has proven to be difficult, expensive and resource intensive.

Australian energy storage startup Climate Change Technologies (CCT) believed they found a solution in April when they released the Thermal Energy Device (TED).

The device has been hailed as the world’s first working thermal battery and works by melting silicon inside an insulated chamber. Electricity is fed into the battery and is used to melt the silicon which can then be withdrawn through a heat engine when required.

Over 3,000 test cycles were performed during testing of the TED, with no signs of degradation shown and an estimated life cycle of 20 years.

Each TED box can store up to 1.2 MWh, approximately six times more energy than lithium-ion batteries per volume, for between 60 and 80 percent of the price.

Doubling the density with off-the-shelf components

Scientists from the Institute of Frontier Materials at Deakin University made a breakthrough in late 2019 when they built a new kind of battery that doubles the density of lithium batteries.

Lithium-ion batteries are the preferred option for many everyday technologies as they are efficient and safe. However, for cars and other modes of transport, lithium-ion batteries fail to match the energy density of other fuel sources, which means the battery must become bigger and heavy to increase the range.

Using a solid electrolyte made from commercially available polymers, the research team created a battery design that allows for the use of lithium metal anodes.

Not only will the battery double the density of lithium, but the design also results in a safer battery due to the lack of liquid electrolyte that has the potential to catch fire.

Scientists are hopeful that this breakthrough will lead to improved vehicle range.

Go big, go home, and go bigger again

Tesla made headlines in 2017 when the company secured a contract with the South Australian government to build the world’s largest lithium-ion battery.

Looking to go bigger and better, Tesla have recently announced plans to expand on the battery in 2020 by approximately 50 percent. With a current storage capacity of 129 MWH and output of 100MW, Tesla will add a further 64.5MWh of capacity and 50 MW of output in a show of strength that should future proof the energy supply for the state of South Australia.

Original source: New Atlas | The biggest battery breakthroughs of 2019

13 Jan 2020

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