The automotive industry is embracing electric vehicles en masse as of late. Not that these companies have a lot of say in the matter, as legislative decisions being made around the globe are making this an inevitability. As the world tries to move away from fossil fuel consumption however, the tech behind EVs needs to evolve to keep up with ever-growing demand. We know automakers are already pushing to develop the next generation of lithium ion batteries to power their EVs, while others continue to investigate the viability of solid-state battery technology. Now though, a new study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is shining light on another battery technology that could dramatically improve the capability of battery packs. Here’s what you need to know about this breakthrough, called liquid metal batteries, and what they could both mean moving forwards.
MIT News has shared information about the study, which was conducted by 23 MIT researchers, two national labs, and experts elsewhere. According to this study, the performance of lithium batteries could be dramatically improved through the use of a novel electrolyte. This electrolyte combined with metal electrodes, used in place of the graphite traditionally found in batteries, allows for significant increases in power density. In the past it has been a challenge to utilize metal electrodes due to the volatile reaction they have with the traditional electrolyte fluid used in batteries, but MIT appears to have cracked it. The researches say this could increase the power-per-weight of lithium ion batteries to 420 watt-hours per kilogram, compared to the average of 260 watt-hours per kilogram we see today. This in turn would create batteries that could provide serious range increases in electric vehicles.
While the electrolyte is being called novel in the report, MIT does state that this isn’t entirely a new invention. Members of this research team created it a few years back for use in experimental lithium-air batteries, which are still elusive. And while that long-term solution is still a ways out, this electrolyte could have instant impact on our world today. That is because it can be viewed as a “plug and play” replacement for battery components we already manufacture, and the materials required are inexpensive.
Of course electric cars aren’t the only things that this battery breakthrough could improve. One of the biggest challenges we’re facing in terms of utilizing renewable energy to power the grid comes down to storing that power. Lithium ion batteries are used to some extent to do this, but traditional power plants also help to combat the volatility within these systems. That’s not exactly a green solution, but another MIT Professor might have an answer for that.
Liquid metal battery offers resistance to capacity fade and immunity to thermal runaway while constructed of ethically sourced materials. All at the lowest price point. https://t.co/vq83H1tmUx
— Donald R. Sadoway (@dsadoway) November 22, 2020
According to Financial Times, Professor Sadoway of MIT is currently developing a liquid metal battery that forgoes lithium all together, instead opting to utilize aluminum, sulphur, calcium and antimony. The tech is promising, and could undercut the current cost of lithium-based tech. That said, Sadoway notes that developing new battery chemistry is a difficult process, and will take some more time. His company Ambri is backed by Bill Gates however, so that should help. The professor believes that this tech could be employed by EVs as well as the power grid, while being greener than the alternatives currently out there.
So then while we wait for liquid metal batteries to come onto the scene, MIT’s newly improved lithium ion units could help transform Electric vehicles. And quite honestly, we’re onboard to see what these researches are able to come up with.
Of course, we are still rooting for Porsche and their efforts to create eFuel either way.