During the last several months a number of new battery technologies has been proposed by different research institutions. Scientists are focusing their attention on finding ways to make batteries store more energy and recharge faster, while at the same time reducing environmental risks posed by the chemicals that are used in batteries. Among the goals of the research is to create a battery which would give electric cars the range similar to that of the cars with internal combustion engines. Some research projects are working towards developing a better lithium-ion battery, while others are exploring the opportunities created by the application of advanced materials like graphene.
For instance, a research done by the Vorbeck Materials Corporation in collaboration with Princeton University and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) is leading to the development of graphene-based batteries that recharge in a matter of minutes. Prototype batteries based on this technology were already on display at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Another innovation, described in a recent paper published in Nature Communications (February 2013), is a stretchable lithium-ion battery that can be charged wirelessly. Its ability to fit almost anywhere allows to use it to power innovative stretchable electronics, including medical devices inside the human body. The power and voltage of the stretchable battery are similar to a conventional lithium-ion battery of the same size, but the flexible battery can stretch up to 300% of its original size and still continue to function.
A less visible, but still very important upgrade of lithium-ion battery technology was developed by the researchers at the University of Maryland (February 2013). They proposed to replace graphite negative electrode with a silicon one and developed a suitable robust silicon structure that can last more charging cycles and store more energy. The scientists have replaced the fragile flat silicon structure with tiny flexible beads of silicon, thus ensuring the resilience of the electrode. The question of the best possible design of the negative electrode was also brought up in a study conducted by the National Institute for Material Science (Japan). Researchers have succeeded in measuring the volumetric expansion of single-particle of silicon, and demonstrated the importance of electrode design from the viewpoint of volumetric energy density.
Several other battery designs were also proposed recently. A research team from the University of Queensland (Australia) have published a paper describing a new version of lithium-sulfur battery that uses a flexible membrane made of sulfur-carbon nanotubes as a cathode to achieve fast charge-discharge performance and long life cycle. According to the press-release, potential applications of the research include back-up power for wind and solar power plants, and emergency power for disaster areas.
Scientists from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich also have developed a new nanomaterial which allows to store considerably more power in lithium-ion batteries. This nanomaterial consists of small tin crystals, that are used as a negative electrode of a battery. When the battery is being charged, lithium ions are absorbed by this electrode; during the process of discharge, they are released again. According to the authors of the paper in Journal of the American Chemical Society (February 2013),this material allows the battery to store twice as much power compared to the batteries that use conventional electrodes.
To solve the charging time problem scientists are exploring hybrid technologies between traditional batteries and supercapacitors to create devices that would be able to simultaneously store and deliver energy efficiently. Such devices would be especially valuable in applications that require high storage capacity combined with rapid energy delivery, such as an electric car’s power source. A new niobium-oxide based material developed by a group of UCLA scientists potentially can blur the lines between what is a battery and what is a supercapacitor. According to one of the authors of the paper in Nature Materials (April 2013), Veronica Augustyn: “The discovery takes the disadvantages of capacitors and the disadvantages of batteries and does away with them.”
Since battery technology is a very active field of study, it is hard to fit all the recent developments into a single article. In our next review we are going to examine utility battery systems and other large-scale power storage systems for the energy grid.
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