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Biofuels "Members of the research team included (from left to right) recent graduate Mihai Duduta ‘10, Prof. W. Craig Carter, graduate student Bryan Ho, and Prof. Yet-Ming Chiang." Photo: Dominick Reuter

Published on June 7th, 2011 | by Nicholas Brown

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Li-ion Flow Batteries Refill Quickly and Easily, Could Cut Cost of Li-ion Batteries in Half!



"A sample of 'Cambridge crude' — a black, gooey substance that can power a highly efficient new type of battery. A prototype of the semi-solid flow battery is seen behind the flask." Photo: Dominick Reuter

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has constructed a type of lithium-ion cell which is radically different from traditional designs. (Just in case you were wondering, a cell is a small battery, but ‘battery’ is also sometimes used to refer to a pack of cells, like a laptop battery for example, which can contain upwards of 6 cells).

It said that the new battery is lightweight, inexpensive, and refills as quickly and easily as a gas tank can be filled. It also said that it is so inexpensive that it has the potential to reduce the cost of lithium ion batteries to half of the current cost. The battery’s ability to refill quickly is due to the fact that it is  a semi-solid flow battery. This type of battery consists of an anode and cathode that are literally suspended in a liquid electrolyte. An anode is a negatively charged electrode, and a cathode a positively charged one.

"Members of the research team included (from left to right) recent graduate Mihai Duduta ‘10, Prof. W. Craig Carter, graduate student Bryan Ho, and Prof. Yet-Ming Chiang." Photo: Dominick Reuter

A traditional lithium ion battery operates like this:

Charging: The battery is supplied with an electric current which facilitates the transfer of lithium ions from the cathode to the anode.

Discharging — basically, drawing power from the battery: This is the opposite of charging. This entails the transfer of lithium ions from the anode and back to the cathode. This process generates electricity.

Yury Gogotsi, a Drexel University professor said that making a practical and commercial version of that battery will require research to find better cathode and anode materials and electrolytes, but adds, “I don’t see fundamental problems that cannot be addressed — those are primarily engineering issues. Of course, developing working systems that can compete with currently available batteries in terms of cost and performance may take years.”

Yury is simply reminding you that technologies don’t start out perfect. They normally require additional work before they can be commercialized, but this is a step in the right direction. Even if this technology does not turn out to be as practical as claimed, the discovery means that researchers have learned something new about lithium ion batteries and it may just and probably will help them to develop other technologies. Knowledge is a very powerful tool.

This new technology is being licensed to 24M Technologies which was actually co-founded by an MIT professor who claimed that he discovered how to reduce the cost of lithium ion batteries by 85% for use in electric vehicles and for power plant energy storage.

Source, Photos & Captions: MIT News Office

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About the Author

writes on CleanTechnica, Gas2, Kleef&Co, and Green Building Elements. He has a keen interest in physics-intensive topics such as electricity generation, refrigeration and air conditioning technology, energy storage, and geography. His website is: Kompulsa.com.



  • Breath on the Wind

    Flow batteries seem to have the advantage of being able to recharge quickly and have a better energy density by weight.   However they don’t seem to be traditional secondary (rechargeable) batteries.  Are they are then more like primary (non rechargeable) batteries in that at least part of the battery (the liquid electrolyte) must be disposed of in some manor?   Just as with other primary batteries the question of disposal and recycling becomes paramount.  The article would be more complete with a discussion of this issue. 

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