Researchers invent battery tech that could make electric cars more efficient

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In what could be seen as a major tech breakthrough, researchers have invented a new lithium-oxygen battery technology that has the capability of taking the concept of long-distance electric cars from paper to the roads.

The discovery was made by a study headed by Ju Li, professor of nuclear science and engineering at the Battelle Energy Alliance and MIT, along with a combined effort of Zhi Zhu and researchers from Peking University, MIT and Argonne National Laboratory.

According to the study, as far as efficiency is considered, the lithium-oxygen batteries are about 5-15 times better than the currently being used lithium-ion electronic car batteries. But, they do pose a number of tech challenges. The top one being that nearly a third of energy is still going waste, as the battery don’t have a long life.

Published in the journal Nature, the new approach by the researchers talks about a ‘nanolithia cathode’ battery that is much more versatile and can overcome some of the fundamental problems associated with Lithium-oxygen batteries.

The Lithium-oxygen batteries currently in use cause a chemical reaction by drawing in air, which is then again released in order to reverse the action and get the battery recharged. It’s this particular necessity to have an
internal and external air flow process that paves the way for ingress of water and carbon dioxide. In order to work around this, the researchers decided to come up with a method of recharging and discharging that wouldn’t require oxygen return to its gaseous form, meaning there wouldn’t be any need for membranes or pumps.

According to the research paper, the oxygen stays inside the solid and then directly transforms between its 3 redox states, while bound in the form of 3 different solid chemical compounds, Li2O, Li2O2, and LiO2, which are then mixed together in the form of a glass. This results in reducing the voltage loss by a significant factor of 5, to 0.24 volts from from 1.2 volts, so that only 8% of the electrical energy is transformed to heat.

The final product are batteries which are more efficient and charge faster, because of less wastage of heat.

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