The race for long range continues to be the foremost consideration for most EV manufacturers. Powering electric vehicles for hundreds of miles is starting to become a reality and the release of models like the Jaguar i-Pace and Tesla Model 3 have been the first in a wave of new advanced EVs. However, as we strive to develop new battery technology, scientists are trying to ensure that any new developments are sustainable and realistic.
EV batteries currently rely on graphite anodes to function and these are the main source of range restrictions in current vehicles. Replacing these with Lithium alternatives can extend the range of EVs by up to 50%. However, using lithium shortens the battery’s useful life. This is due to lithium dendrites, tiny tree-like defects that form on the anode over the course of charging cycles. Worryingly, the dendrites can also short-circuit the cells in the battery if they make contact with the cathode.
It has long been assumed that solid electrolytes like ceramic materials would be the best solution to prevent dendrites. However, this is considered to be treating the symptom rather than tackling the formation of dendrites in the first place. Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University, have developed a new class of soft, solid electrolytes which suppress dendrites at an early stage and prevent any potential battery failures.
“Our dendrite-suppressing technology has exciting implications for the battery industry,” said co-author Brett Helms, a staff scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Foundry. “With it, battery manufacturers can produce safer lithium metal batteries with both high energy density and a long cycle life.”
These lithium-electrode sub-assemblies, or LESAs, are attractive drop-in replacements for the conventional graphite anode, allowing battery manufacturers to use their existing assembly lines. Furthermore, while this technology may be ground-breaking for electric cars, it may also open the door to electrically powered aircrafts due to the new range possibilities. An awardee under the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy’s (ARPA-E) IONICS program, 24M Technologies, has integrated these materials into larger format batteries for both EVs and eVTOL (electric vertical take-off and landing) aircraft.
“While there are unique power requirements for EVs and eVTOLs, the PIM composite solid electrolyte technology appears to be versatile and enabling at high power,” said Helms.
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