There may be no one on the planet who knows more about lithium-ion batteries than John Goodenough, who turned 98 this week and still goes to work every day at his laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin. Awarded the Nobel Prize last year for his pioneering work on lithium-ion batteries, his dream is to learn how to create solid-state batteries with an energy density of 1000 watt-hours per liter.
In a press release dated June 30, South Korean battery manufacturer SK Innovation announced it will collaborate with Goodenough and his colleague Dr. Hadi Khani to make his solid-state battery dream come true. The pair is hard at work on developing a unique gel-polymer electrolyte for a lithium-metal battery with the goal of providing higher energy density and better safety at a competitive cost. That’s a big ask, but one with an equally large payoff in terms of moving the world forward toward a zero emissions future.
The issue, as always, is dendrites — those sharp spiky things that develop over time inside lithium-ion batteries. At best, they degrade performance. At worst, they penetrate the internal layers of the battery, which can lead to fires or explosions. Researchers around the world are struggling to tame those pesky dendrites, with researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory reporting their own breakthrough recently using solid but soft electrolytes composed of polymers and ceramics.
SK innovation, along with Goodenough and Khani, plans to develop a new gel-polymer electrolyte system which will evenly transport lithium-ion while filtering undesired ions from traveling and ultimately suppress dendrite growth. The goal is to develop a micro-porous polymer matrix with a weakly coordinating anion system that can be applied to larger, more powerful cells. “Together with SK innovation, I hope we can open the next generation battery era,” says Goodenough.
Dr. Seongjun Lee, Chief Technology Officer of SK innovation, says, “We are delighted to announce that SK innovation and Professor Goodenough’s group are jointly preparing for the next generation battery era. SK Innovation believes this will be a meaningful step on our journey to deliver an innovative lithium metal battery that is safe and cost competitive.”
There is usually quite a time lag before advances in the lab translate into commercial products. Tesla may already have succeeded in creating next-generation batteries, a topic we are likely to hear more about on Battery Day which is now less than 8 weeks away.