Batteries that last five times longer in the offing

A new discovery regarding longer lasting batteries could give smartphones and cars a single charge that can work five times longer than current ones.

A team led by Dallas Kyeongjae Cho researcher from the University of Texas discovered new catalyst materials for lithium-air batteries that jumpstart efforts at expanding battery capacity.

“There is huge promise in lithium-air batteries. However, despite the aggressive research being done by groups all over the world, those promises are not being delivered in real life,” said Cho, professor of materials science and engineering.

“Our collaboration team have demonstrated that this problem can be solved. Hopefully, this discovery will revitalise research in this area and create momentum for further development,” he added in a paper published in the journal Nature Energy.

Lithium-air (or lithium-oxygen) batteries “breathe” oxygen from the air to power the chemical reactions that release electricity, rather than storing an oxidiser internally like lithium-ion batteries do.

Due to this, lithium-air batteries boast an energy density comparable to gasoline — with theoretical energy densities as much as 10 times that of current lithium-ion batteries, giving them tremendous potential for storage of renewable energy, particularly in applications such as mobile devices and electric cars.

In new research, the team focused on the electrolyte catalysts inside the battery, which, when combined with oxygen, create chemical reactions that create battery capacity.

The researchers created a new catalyst for the lithium-air battery called “dimethylphenazine” which possesses higher stability and increased voltage efficiency.

“The catalyst should enable the lithium-air battery to become a more practical energy storage solution,” Zheng said.

Cho said that practical attempts to increase lithium-air battery capacity so far have resulted in low efficiency and poor rate performance, instability and unwanted chemical reactions.

However, it could take five to 10 years before the research translates into new batteries that can be used in consumer devices and electric vehicles.