Energy: Could lithium-air batteries be a viable solution for portable energy?

by mcampbell on July 27, 2012

The trouble with current battery technology is threefold: 1) they have very limited energy storage, 2) they are large, and 3) they are heavy. These limitations have constrained the development of several other areas of technology that depend on portable energy, such as mobile computing and electric cars; but, that may change with a new innovation: the lithium-air battery.

The lithium-air battery could radically change portable energy because:

1) It has improved power storage capabilities, up to 10 times that of lithium-ion batteries (possibly as much energy in a given area as gasoline).

2) Its oxygen supply, necessary for the oxidation of lithium, comes from the atmosphere. This means that the batteries do not have to supply an oxidizer internally and can therefore be smaller and lighter.

This technology has had many challenges on the way to becoming a viable product. Perhaps the biggest problem to date is that these batteries are unstable and will decompose after a couple of charges; however, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel. Researchers in Scotland have developed a new combination of materials that afford reasonable levels of stability (100 recharge cycles with only a 5% drop in capacity). Unfortunately, one of those materials is gold…

OK, so we might not have a solution yet. What this proves is that different combinations of materials (and our list of possibilities is rapidly expanding with advances in material science and nanotechnology) are capable of giving vastly greater performance and utility. Battery technology still has a great deal of unfulfilled potential.


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