Researchers at the U. S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory are leveraging their broad and deep understanding of safe, high-energy and long-life Li-ion battery development to leap the high hurdles required for the development of commercially viable Li-air batteries.
"The obstacles to Li-air batteries becoming a viable technology are formidable and will require innovations in materials science, chemistry and engineering," said Argonne Director Eric Isaacs. "We have a history of taking on scientific challenges and overcoming them. Argonne is committed to developing Li-air battery technologies. In fact, we’ve made it a ‘grand research challenge’ at the laboratory."
Argonne has researched a variety of battery technologies during the last four decades, and in the process has built a deep well of scientific and engineering expertise. As a result, the lab has become a leader in the development of new materials for advanced batteries, including Li-ion batteries.
"This is not a near-term technology," added Jeff Chamberlain, Senior Account Manager in Argonne’s Office of Technology Transfer. "It is going to take time and collaborations across several scientific disciplines to address the four main challenges of this battery development effort: safety, cost, life and performance."
To accomplish this task, Argonne’s research will continue to span basic, applied and theoretical sciences and will leverage the lab’s world-class research facilities – the Advanced Photon Source, the Center for Nanoscale Materials and Argonne’s Leadership Computing Facility.
While the potential of Li-air batteries is great, the research to get there will take time and involve working with industry, which will eventually adopt the technology for commercial application.
Argonne has worked with several industrial partners on the commercialization of Li-ion batteries and battery materials, including companies such as EnerDel, Envia, BASF and Toda America. The lab is working with the Commonwealth of Kentucky to develop the Kentucky-Argonne National Battery Manufacturing Center, which will support the development of a viable U.S. battery manufacturing industry. And more recently, DOE awarded the lab $8.8 million to build out and outfit three battery research facilities that will be used for battery prototyping, materials production scale-up and post-test analysis.
Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries will be a bridge technology to Lithium-air (Li-air) batteries for electric vehicles applications, assuming technological hurdles are overcome.
Li-air batteries use a catalytic air cathode that supplies oxygen, an electrolyte and a lithium anode. Li-air batteries will have a capacity for energy storage that is five to 10 times greater than that of Li-ion batteries.
Development of a viable Li-air battery will require a technology breakthrough. However, as with Li-ion batteries, it will take one to two decades before the technology could be commercially adopted.
Li-air batteries have both scientific and engineering challenges.
– Science: The challenge is materials development, including creation of an advanced catalyst, a highly stable electrolyte, and efficient stabilization of the lithium anode metal.
– Engineering: The challenge includes the development of high-porosity gas diffusion electrodes, ways of depositing the catalyst onto the cathode and developing a membrane to prevent oxygen crossover to the lithium anode.
Argonne is ideally suited to lead Li-air research and development (R&D) because it has:
– A broad and deep range of experience in the development of Li-ion batteries;
– An expert staff of scientists and engineers that have led the development of new materials for advanced batteries, including Li-ion batteries and development of a catalyst for fuel cells;
Business development professionals that have helped forge relationships with industry partners to adopt the technology for commercial applications;
– An interdisciplinary Li-air R&D program to examine all the challenges associated with developing safe, high-energy and long-life batteries; and
– Access to research tools – such as the Advanced Photon Source, the Center for Nanoscale Materials and one of the world’s fastest supercomputers –to accelerate R&D.
Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation’s first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America ‘s scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.