Alternative Energy

Alternative Energy

Alternative energy news, and information about renewable energy technologies.

Apr 12

MIT Working on More Powerful, Lightweight Batteries

Posted in Battery Technology | Energy Industry | Future Technology

Powerful, Lightweight Batteries A team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is working on lithium-air batteries that could help in generating more powerful, lightweight batteries than available currently. Yang Shao-Horn is an MIT associate professor of mechanical engineering. According to him many research groups are trying to improve on lithium-air batteries. But they have difference of opinions about the types of electrode materials to be used. It has to be noted that electrode materials are responsible for electrochemical reactions happening inside these batteries.


Lithium-air batteries, also known as the lithium-oxygen batteries, work on the same principle as the lithium-ion batteries. Presently lithium-ion batteries are flooding the market and being used in the portable electronics and are a leading contender for electric vehicles. Lithium-air batteries possess a big advantage over conventional batteries. Their main components don’t have the heavy conventional compounds. They have a carbon-based air electrode and with flow of air these air-batteries are quite light hence can be utilized in electronics that themselves can be much lighter. Lithium-air batteries offer three times the energy density than the conventional batteries. They can be easily utilized in electronic devices and hybrid cars. Renowned companies like IBM and General Motors are sensing the potential lithium-air batteries hold that is why they are investing in major research projects on lithium-air technology.

How do lithium-air batteries work? Lithium-air batteries electrochemically couple a lithium anode to oxygen derived from atmosphere. Their biggest advantage is their cathode is a carbon-based air cathode instead of the heavy conventional compounds found in lithium-ion batteries. This culminates in higher energy density because cathode is lighter and oxygen is available in surroundings.

Yang, along with some of the students and visiting professor Hubert Gasteiger are catching up with those electrodes that have gold and platinum working as catalysts. Gold or platinum electrodes exhibit a higher level of activity that naturally leads to higher efficiency. This work may open wider avenues for experimenting with other metals or metallic oxides that are cheaper than gold and platinum.

If we study the chemical properties of lithium we can learn that in metallic form, lithium is highly reactive in the presence of even a tiny fraction of water. But this will not cause any safety issue because in current lithium-ion batteries, carbon-based materials are used for the negative electrode. Shao-Horn explains that the same battery principle can be applied without using metallic lithium. They can choose graphite or some other more stable negative electrode materials leading to a safer system.

Doctoral student Yi-Chun Lu who is lead author of the paper, elaborates further. She explains that this team has devised a technique for analysing the activity of different catalysts in the batteries. They can look into a variety of possible materials as catalysts. She says, “Such research could allow us to identify the physical parameters that govern the catalyst activity. Ultimately, we will be able to predict the catalyst behaviours.” Now researchers at MIT have made a breakthrough that would help the commercial development of lightweight rechargeable batteries.

  • amoline

    Lightweight means better efficiency for EV. Improved materials, means cheaper return for EV. More and more we see the reality that the electric car may not be so far in the distant future as we thought. There have been huge gains in development which may bring the cost down to where driving a EV makes economical sense.

  • Howard Butts

    Energy from air now that is just about to good to be true, but time will tell. Lets fund this research instead of bailing out credit card Co.

  • liezl

    This is good news! Lightweight means it is cost effective. Hope to see them out in the market soon.

  • Euroflycars

    Let me plagiate amoline’s comment, with just a few slight enhancements to announce a paradigme shift in personal mobility:

    Lightweight means better efficiency for PA (Personal Aircraft). Improved materials, means cheaper (???) return for PA. More and more we see the reality that the Electric Personal Aircraft may not be so far in the distant future as we thought. There have been huge gains in development which may bring the cost down to where flying a PA makes economical sense…

  • Richard Fletcher

    Euroflycars seems to have captured everything about this issue.

  • James

    Can you see a 80,000 lb transport truck that is electric?
    It ain’t gonna happen!
    How much do you think these batteries will cost and how many times will they recharge. If we can’t afford them ( and who can after their job goes to China ) what’s the point in making something no one can afford.

  • ben

    to James:
    yes I can, why not?
    cycle life for some current batteries is guaranteed to be more than 3000 cycles, nanotech will improve this further. I agree current battery tech does not have the energy density required to easily use for big trucks (but it is do-able) but if you could double or triple the density as these apparently do (actually thats wrong, from my understanding the theoretical (un-achievable) improvement with li-air is about 80 times the specific energy of lipoly, with perhaps 20 – 40 times an achievable number, ie 3 – 6 KWH/KG!

    anyway, what is your point regarding the weight of the truck? scale up the vehicle scale up the battery. if batteries last long enough to pay themselves back via cheaper energy costs then no reason trucking companies wont start to use them

    by the way, look up the thundersky electric luxury coaches… not too much of a step from a full size bus to a truck…

  • Peter

    What prevents us from making a battery that has these specifications: 1) Provides 110 or 220 V energy; 2) Weighs 40 pounds or less; 3) gives 1,600 kWh over a month’s time; can be recharged by using solar energy.

    Is it expense? is there a physics barrier that stops us from making this battery? Why couldn’t we get rid of the distribution grid with batteries like this in every home and business?

  • J Marshall

    Without a doubt batteries have been the limiting factor in the adoption of several new green technologies. Glad to see battery advancements that hold real promise.

  • Meriamma

    Develop it fast as the world need it now more urgently than ever before.


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