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The Search for Newer Battery Tech Improving on Safety and Performance

An army of blue batteries ready to charge

Lithium-ion batteries unarguably remain the king of battery tech although there is one downside to it. They contain flammable liquid that is very expensive to manufacture. To meet the demands for these batteries in developing countries, researchers created a new battery tech prototype –an “all-solid-state” battery and has the capability to store a lot more power compared to Lithium-ion batteries. It is also guaranteed to be reliable and safe.

Lithium-Ion Degradation

Batteries are in nearly everything– laptops, cellphones, and even in electric cars. To meet the high demand, these batteries need to be powerful, light and should be able to last for a long time. Researchers from the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Material Science and Technology, Empa, as well as the University of Geneva (UNIGE) have created this prototype battery. Its main component is Sodium, which is a lot cheaper than Lithium.

Batteries require three core parts to work properly: the cathode or positive pole, the anode which is the negative pole, and the electrolyte. When charging the batteries, the lithium ions travel from the cathode to the anode. However, this is also the reason why Lithium-Ion batteries degrade over time. Lithium batteries have a solid electrolyte interface or SEI that enable the battery to operate in a reversible manner. However, the anode will eventually lose lithium due to SEI growth, while the cathode will oxidize, which causes a decrease in ability for it to operate.

Better and Faster Battery Performance

The “solid” batteries, which means they don’t contain liquid electrolyte, are said to have more advantages like faster charging and increased overall capacity.

One of the challenges with the prototype creation was finding a suitable material to act as an ionic conductor that is both stable and non-toxic. Researchers also needed to find the kind that would allow Sodium to move between the cathode and anode when needed, according to Hans Hagemann, a professor in the Physical Chemistry Department of UNIGE.

Further, the group’s research stated that boron-based substances allow all of the above and are also a lot safer as they are inorganic conductors. It means that they aren’t flammable.

Researchers from both UNIGE and Empa then tested this new type of battery and have discovered that the new battery can withstand up to three volts while other solid electrolytes are already damaged at this voltage.

Arndt Remhof is the lead researcher for the study and they have tested the battery for 250 cycles of charging and discharging. Results showed that it was still 85% functional after the cycles. However, before the battery technology can be put in the market, it needs to be tested for up to 1,200 cycles. According to Remhof, they also need to test whether it will form dendrites and if it is usable in room temperature.


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