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New Technology Can Make Batteries Safer & Last Indefinitely

August 19, 2015 - Written By Kishalaya Kundu

In what could become one of the most important breakthroughs in battery technology in recent times, Samsung Electronics and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have announced that the presence of solid instead of liquid electrolyte in batteries could potentially help extend the batteries’ lifetime indefinitely, improve safety and significantly boost the amount of energy stored in a given amount of space, thereby solving “most of the remaining issues in battery lifetime, safety and cost”, according to the MIT. In a statement, MIT asserted its findings have the potential to become a game-changer for the battery industry, as incorporating solid state electrolytes in electromagnetic cells would prevent the problems currently faced by the industry.

An electromagnetic cell – more commonly referred to as ‘battery’ in colloquial parlance – essentially consists of three basic components – the anode, which is the negative electrode that releases electrons and gets oxidized during electrochemical reactions; the Cathode, which is the positive electrode that acquires electrons and is reduced during the process; and the Electrolyte, which is the medium that provides the ion transport mechanism between the cathode and the anode of a cell. This electrolyte has thus far mostly been restricted to liquids as conventional wisdom suggests that solid materials cannot conduct fast enough. That belief has now apparently been proven to be false. The solid-state electrolyte reportedly also has other, unexpected side benefits. While conventional lithium-ion batteries with liquid electrolytes see degraded performance in extreme temperatures Batteries carrying solid-electrolytes however, can apparently still function at frigid and scalding temperatures.

The research was jointly conducted by MIT and the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology, and the results were published in the “Nature Materials” journal in a paper by MIT postdoc Yan Wang, visiting professor of materials science and engineering Gerbrand Ceder, MIT graduate student William Richards and postdoc Jae Chul Kim; Shyue Ping Ong at the University of California at San Diego; Yifei Mo at the University of Maryland; and Lincoln Miara at Samsung. Speaking on the safety aspect of solid-state electrolytes, Gerbrand Ceder said, “All of the fires you’ve seen, with Boeing, Tesla, and others, they are all electrolyte fires. The lithium itself is not flammable in the state it’s in in these batteries. (With a solid electrolyte) there’s no safety problem — you could throw it against the wall, drive a nail through it — there’s nothing there to burn”. He also pointed out that, “With a solid-state electrolyte, there’s virtually no degradation reactions left”. What it means in essence, is that such batteries could theoretically last through “hundreds of thousands of (recharge) cycles”.