Lithium-Air Batteries: The next big step in the world of batteries

Lithium-air battery is a newly emerging technology that is said to rival the leading Lithium-ion batteries in the market. The concept of Li-air batteries was proposed around 1996 way after Li-ion batteries were introduced. In today’s world, Li-ion batteries are considered to be the main protagonist, ranging from being used in cell phones to electric vehicles and even in storing energy in power system grids. In comparison to that, lithium-air batteries have way high energy density than its competitors, hypothetically making them an ideal choice for electric vehicles.

 How does it work?

The lithium-air batteries usually comprise of a lithium anode and a porous carbon cathode. The oxygen required is taken from the atmosphere. When the battery is being discharged, the lithium ions flow from the anode to the cathode, whereas the electrons flow through an external circuit. At the anode, the lithium gets oxidised and forms Lithium peroxide (L2O2). Higher the amount of Lithium peroxide at the cathode, more is the charge capacity of the battery [2]. During recharging the battery, the reverse of the above occurs and the previously borrowed oxygen is released back in to the atmosphere.

Fig 1: Charge and discharge process
Fig 1: Charge and discharge process

 With the mentioned construction of lithium-air batteries, they are said to possess almost 10 times as much energy density as that of lithium-ion batteries [2]. This makes them much superior to current battery models in the market and an excellent choice as battery in electric vehicle manufacturing.

Applications

The lithium-air batteries are mainly developed for manufacturing electric vehicles. To make comparison, the current Tesla model 3 comprises of Panasonic’s 2170 cells for its battery pack. The energy density of the battery pack of the car is around 260 Wh/kg [4]. Now if we were to use a lithium-air battery in in the place of a lithium-ion battery, we can extend the range of the car by a significant amount, going as far as to manufacture EVs that have the longest driving range. 

Fig 2: Simplistic structure of Li-air batteries
Fig 2: Simplistic structure of Li-air batteries

 Due to some challenges of using lithium-air batteries in electric vehicles, such battery packs are currently not in use as they may even turn out to be dangerous in some situations. That’s why there have been research teams who have worked on overcoming challenges faced in the use of said batteries.  Increasing energy density is crucial in improving the driving range of the electric car. Thus, one can rely highly on lithium-air batteries once they are commercially and are used to manufacture electric vehicles of the future. 

Limitations for use

 Although lithium-air batteries seem superior to its competitors, it faces the challenge of lithium being a highly reactive metal. It can ignite when it comes in contact with water, which makes its use in EVs dangerous. Also, the charge efficiency of lithium-air batteries is very low as compared to lithium-ion batteries. Lithium-ion batteries have a charge efficiency of around 99 % [3]. Whereas, lithium -air batteries have a charge efficiency of almost 20 % lower than that of lithium-ion batteries i.e., around 65 %. With that, it falls back in the hierarchy in comparison to lithium-ion batteries. Lithium-air batteries also face the challenges of low cyclic performance, high-charging voltage and a few more.

Current state of these batteries

With the ongoing research one can hope to find lithium-air batteries to soon be commercially available in the market. Recently a new type of Li-air battery was invented by researchers in China which is stated to have longer life-cycle, higher capacity and higher stability than any other batteries before. The device has a solid electrolyte integrated with two electrolytes [1].

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References:

  1. https://www.chemistryworld.com/news/integrated-design-gives-lithium-air-battery-room-to-breathe-safely/4013602.article
  2. https://spectrum.ieee.org/energywise/energy/batteries-storage/lithium-air-batteries-battery-news
  3. https://batteryuniversity.com/learn/article/comparing_the_battery_with_other_power_sources
  4. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-tesla-batteries-idUSKBN25L0MC