By on November 1, 2015

Lithium air battery

Researchers at the University of Cambridge say they’ve created a lighter, cheaper, longer lithium-oxygen battery that could eventually rival gasoline engines in electric vehicles in terms of range and weight, Automotive News reported.

The scientists announced that they had created a working prototype of an “ultimate battery” that could be up to 10 times more energy-dense than lithium-ion batteries. They said the battery, to date, could be recharged more than 2,000 times.

The lithium-oxygen batteries could eventually replace lithium-ion batteries in electric vehicles and offer a range similar to gasoline engines, but researchers say that could be more than a decade away.  

“What we’ve achieved is a significant advance for this technology and suggests whole new areas for research — we haven’t solved all the problems inherent to this chemistry, but our results do show routes forward towards a practical device,” Professor Clare Grey said in a statement announcing the battery.

According to researchers, the demonstration lithium-oxygen battery still presents significant real-world hurdles including only cycling in a pure oxygen atmosphere.

“There’s still a lot of work to do,” Tao Liu, said in a statement. “But what we’ve seen here suggests that there are ways to solve these problems — maybe we’ve just got to look at things a little differently.”

Executives at Volkswagen and Toyota have said that lithium-oxygen batteries could be significant for EV development, which could enable those cars to increase their ranges by hundreds of miles.

(Photo: Microscopic view of a graphene oxide electrode (black) that hosts the larger lithium hydroxide particles (pink) that form with a lithium-oxide battery discharges. Illustration by Valerie Altounian/Science)

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52 Comments on “British Researchers Make Lighter, Cheaper, Longer Lithium-oxygen Batteries...”


  • avatar
    RideHeight

    I’m seeing strawberry custard on a fudge brownie!

  • avatar
    pragmatic

    The battery that can give gasoline range has been a decade away since the late 1970’s.

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      Huh?

      http://onclimatechangepolicydotorg.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/battery-cost-and-density.jpg?w=600&h=406

      • 0 avatar
        pragmatic

        Hard to find stuff from the 1970’s (I lost a lot of my stored files in Hurricane Irene) but compare your chart to this from 1997

        http://pubs.acs.org/cen/hotarticles/cenear/971013/table.html

        Where the projections for 4 years done the road equal where your graph has us in 2014 (not sure when yours was published).

        In the Annual Progres Report from 2005.

        http://www1.eere.energy.gov/vehiclesandfuels/pdfs/program/2005_energy_storage.pdf

        Sets a goal of reducing battery cost to $150/kWhr (compared to your chart showing $215/kWhr in 2014.

        So as I said the future is always 10 years away.

    • 0 avatar
      sonofawat

      Relevant https://xkcd.com/678/

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      @ pragmatic: You are quite correct. This mythical battery is sitting on the same shelf as the 100 mpg carburetor.

      • 0 avatar
        pragmatic

        I had a friend who works for an oil company. During the bust in the late 90’s when they had major lay-offs, he would fill in the labels on select file cabinets in empty cubicles with “100 mpg Carburetor Plans”. If anyone visiting noticed he would tell them that’s where the plans they bought up were stored in case they were needed.

        • 0 avatar
          WhiskeyRiver

          Three things I noticed about this story.

          1.) “lighter, cheaper, longer.” Ok. How long is it? 10 feet?

          2.) “They said the battery, to date, could be recharged more than 2,000 times.” Well, how nice. I get to buy this battery twice a year.

          3.) “Executives at Volkswagen and Toyota have said that lithium-oxygen batteries could be significant for EV development.” This implies that all the testing to date has been done with cheat software.

          And there’s my 100MPG carburetor reference.

          • 0 avatar
            Xeranar

            Waiting, you’re completely draining and recharging your batteries 3 times a day? What are you doing with them? Driving across the country at 120 MPH and then using some sort of super-conductor to force-charge them?

            2000/365 = 5.5 YEARS. Presuming that wouldn’t charge them every day given triple max range, so that would go down to 3x a week charging, you’re looking at about 15 year life span.

            Math ain’t your strong suit, is it? :)

          • 0 avatar
            WhiskeyRiver

            I’m right. Common core says all I have to do is explain my logic and then I’m right. Old school math is all wrong and boring.

            My logic says where VW is involved, there’s cheating. A claim of 2000 charges means I get to buy the battery twice a year.

            Common Core makes this completely understandable. Move into the modern world.

          • 0 avatar
            Xeranar

            Common Core has been around in various forms since the 1990’s and to use it as a buzzword to defend your shoddy math skills just makes me laugh. You know conservatives were for it before they were against it and only went against it because Democrats began implementing it. It has some warts but it’s a pretty open ended structure.

            But hey, thanks for playing the game. :)

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            I can’t go on Facebook without seeing a “Common Core is terrible” post. Most revolve around the “I didn’t learn maths this way and I are just fine!” argument. The current Common Core isn’t that bad and the box counting stuff goes away. It’s teaching kids “why” at a younger age so they can explain more complicated math problems later.

  • avatar

    During a 7-year ownership period (a period the vast majority of EV leasees will NEVER SEE)

    #1 How many times is the battery recharged?

    • 0 avatar
      nickoo

      Assuming a 300 mile battery, charged and discharged from 20-80% (to keep the battery in its sweet spot and avoiding premature degredation), that gives you 60% of 300 or 180 miles. Do that 2,000 times and you’ve got 360,000 miles of battery.

      Assuming a 300 mile battery, charged and discharged from 10-100% putting more thermal stress on the pack, that gives you 90% of 300 or 270 miles. Do that 1,000 times and you’ve got a 270,000 mile battery.

      Those are fairly crude scenarios for battery life, but the point is, treated well, you should be able to get 300,000 out of a model S battery.

    • 0 avatar
      mfennell

      Depends on the range of the car.

      100 mile range, 105k miles in 7 years (15k/yr): 1050 charges.
      200 mile range: 525 charges.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      In 26710 miles, my Leaf battery was charged 2356 times in 3 years.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        You’ll get 2000 charges and like it.

      • 0 avatar
        mfennell

        In this context, your Leaf battery was “charged” approximately 26710/80=334 times. When battery people talk charges, they mean full to empty. It’s not a perfect comparison but many small charges aggregate into a full cycle.

        • 0 avatar
          Xeranar

          And 2000 charges means zero degradation. Post-2000 you’ll see a likely curved drop off that will mean they’ll function at 80% down to zero over the course of X amount of charges. So even when you burn through those first 2000 you’ll still have a mostly functional battery for the next 1000 or so.

          I did the basic math in an above post, presuming 300 mile range (which is what Teslas are getting currently) your battery will last 15 years or 600K miles. If we lower it to 200 mile range, it’s still 400K.

          In all honesty, you’ll probably kill your car before battery given realistic cycling and driving habits. 11-14K is normal yearly driving range. Presuming people waste charge at 20% (which is high, but random draining..etc.) is still at most 84 charges a year. You would have to use that battery for almost 24 years before you would finish burning all the charges out of it.

  • avatar
    nickoo

    A new battery breakthrough is announced weekly and has been since the age of the leaf/model S. The R&D and prototype stages are great, but we’re actually extremely close to mass production of next generation batteries, which revolutionize the production methods (which is actually the biggest hurdle for lithium batteries) and better cell structure, as well as the chemical formulations themselves.

    Its part of the reason I think the giga-factory will fail. It was designed and built with the mind that they would be manufacturing current generation batteries. If they had been smart, they would have started with a smaller scale operation and would have already been building the batteries of tomorrow rather than gearing up for massive production of the batteries of today.

    Here are two companies with batteries that are “ready for prime time”, but there are several more out there beyond just these two:

    http://www.solidenergysystems.com/

    http://powerjapanplus.com/

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      In 26710 miles, my Leaf battery was charged 2356 times in 3 years.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      OK, can’t explain my duplicate comment above ^^. (Computers)

      @nickoo: I can’t agree with your sentiments, although I used to. Tesla has made a massive investment in its Gigafactory, ostensibly to build ‘current technology’. (You know, building something from the future is only possible in TV ads, since the future is not yet here).

      But Musk has said the factory will accommodate technology advances as they appear.

      However, all these promises of a longer-range battery have fallen flat. There is always some insurmountable barrier: recharge cycles, recharge time, power output, cost, repeatability, manufacturability, size, weight, and so on. Even the one outlined in this article requires a pure oxygen environment – something nobody wants to carry in their car battery.

      So I’d argue that the Gigafactory is doing what Man has always done – working with what it has available today. If Henry Ford had waited for the Ecoboost engine to arrive, he’d have never built the Model T.

      • 0 avatar
        nickoo

        Nah, what I’m saying is, the new batteries are already here, they simply need someone to ramp up the manufacturing, which is going to happen whether Tesla does it or not. The gel electrolyte flow batteries are revolutionary because they overcome the greatest hurdlle: That is, they cut manufacturing time by more than 80% because they don’t need to be built layer by layer in a sterile environment like current lithium batteries and no need to wait for each layer to dry between moving on the next step. That was the reason for the giga-factory to be huge, to mass produce the current batteries, because they take so long to build. That is why the giga-factory has fail written on the plaque above the door.

        Also, the flow batteries are much cheaper, more energy dense (less plastic is needed because there are many less layers, and just all around better.

        Please read:

        http://phys.org/news/2015-06-approach-slices-lithium-ion-battery.html

        • 0 avatar
          kosmo

          OK, first off, I can’t stand Elon Musk, so it pains me to defend the gigafactory.

          That said, the gigafactory is just a big place. If (hopefully when) battery tech changes to provide greater charge density and more efficient manufacturing at the current cost, demand will BLOW UP, so all “failed” huge space will end up being utilized — and probably another factory built next door.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      Nickoo, you nailed it 100%. Another company to add to your list is http://24-m.com.

      There’s a huge demand for better batteries that goes way beyond the EV market. Cell phones are demanding more and more power and the users are expecting improved battery life. Other devices such as drones use them. The personal robotics industry that’s still in it’s infancy will demand them as well. Portable power tools are here and those users want better batteries. Rechargeable lithium batteries are everywhere and far more prolific than gasoline-powered devices.

  • avatar
    65corvair

    Can I recharge it in three minutes?

  • avatar

    There is also the question of speed of recharging, and the amount of degradation during fast recharging.

    It certainly would be great to have a battery rivaling gasoline in range and refueling times.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      David, I just looked at the stats on my Leaf with Nissan’s new battery formulation. I have 22,000 miles that I put on in about 13 months, 135 quick charges and 1047 Level 1 and Level 2s. Battery health is still 100%.

      While the charging time can be an issue on longer trips, for the most part, it’s like owning a perpetual motion machine. I plug it in when I to my destination and I plug it in when I get home. Most of the time when I get into the car and go somewhere, I’m greeted 100% on the charge gauge and 100+ miles (in the upper 90s when it’s cold) on the range meter. No stops at gas stations and no standing outside freezing last winter pumping gas. I even get to start the climate control while the car is in the garage.

      Charging time could be better for the rare longer trips, but I’ve worked around that by keeping a laptop with me and doing a bit of telecommuting while the car juices up. It’s not like a gasser where you have to stand next to the vehicle pumping fuel in.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    What ever happened to the great strides made in lithium battery technology out of Singapore?

    I really think it is the companies trying to gain more money.

    Electric power is fantastic, for golf carts and cordless drills. When you cordless drill batteries go flat, just plug them in and sit back and enjoy a beer.

    This “stuff” is a massive waste of tax payer money.

    The money would be better spent on natural gas infrastructure. This will reduce green house gasses and emissions greater than a quick charging battery.

    • 0 avatar
      56BelAire

      Al, IMO cordless drill batteries are not “fantastic”…even the newer lithium batteries. They degrade pretty fast even the “smart” ones and replacement batteries are ridiculously expensive. Give me a corded drill and I’m happy.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al From 'Murica

        This. The worst is the stupid cordless weedeater I got. On my second season and 3 batteries cant finish the yard. I just got a full on electric and deal with the cord. I would go gas, but I have had far worse luck with those little 2 stroke motors.

        • 0 avatar
          bball40dtw

          I can’t imagine how many batteries it would take for me to blow the leaves in my yard with a cordless blower. 12 maybe.

          I actually found that a good charger can make the difference on some of those batteries. The new charger I have even brought my older NiCad batteries back to life.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            I use a cordless edger/weed whacker that’s a B&D, and it does my yard fine, sometimes on 1 battery but sometimes 1.5, depending on how thorough I need to be.

            My leaf blower is a bright green Toshiba, and at going on 4 years old, starts on the first pull with choke closed every time. Flip choke open, good to go! Very happy with that purchase.

            I mulch it all after I blow it off the drive and porch. It’s too much to mess with raking any more. Did that for the first couple years, and got tired of it after 3-4 installments of 4 hours each time raking and 30 leaf bags.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            Corey-

            In my neighborhood, there is a big truck that comes around weekly to suck up all the leaves at the curb. So every week, I rake/blow all the leaves to the street. I have too many leaves to mulch with the lawn mower. My trees are too gigantic.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            The leaves suck-up is the one service my part of town doesn’t provide. Recycling is free, trash is free, they’ll come get roadkill. They’ll get any branches or logs you want taken away.

            But leaves you have to bag to get them to touch.

  • avatar
    gottacook

    Although it’s nice that you concluded with a link to the Science cover, it would be even better (speaking as a member of its editorial staff) if you could add something like “The research was published in this week’s issue of Science” in the body of your story, analogous to what news writers at NPR, the New York Times, et al. would do in similar circumstances. I see that Automotive News didn’t do so, but that’s no reason for you not to.

  • avatar
    pdl2dmtl

    “…The lithium-oxygen batteries could eventually replace lithium-ion batteries in electric vehicles and offer a range similar to gasoline engines, but researchers say that could be more than a decade away.”

    I cannot help but be skeptical and make an analogy with the cancer research. If I had a penny for any time they would come out and say they are about to eradicate cancer, I would be rich.

    I have more hope in the photovoltaic cells with increased efficiency as in above 50% that will be available soon and cheaper by the dozen.

    I hope it happens during my life time though.

    • 0 avatar

      Biology is far more complex than most chemistry and cancer is like one of those russian Matroshka dolls–every time you peel back a layer of complexity, what’s underneath is at least equally complex (although battery chemistry is notoriously gnarly, especially when it comes to trying to get the energy density and speed of recharging that cars require.)

  • avatar
    FalconRTV

    So Volkwagen’s version will do hundreds of miles more? Are those VW miles, or real miles?

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    More baby steps with so far to go. Wake me when they come up with di-lithium crystals.

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