A team of scientists from CSIRO, RMIT University and QUT have recently demonstrated that a simple salt bath could pave the way for the next generation of rechargeable lithium batteries that will disrupt the electric vehicle industry.
The research, which was published yesterday in Nature Communications, found that pre-treating a battery’s lithium metal electrodes with an electrolyte salt solution extends the battery life and increases performance and safety.
CSIRO battery researcher Dr Adam Best said the simple method will fast-track the development of next-gen energy storage solutions and overcome the issue of “battery range anxiety” that is currently a barrier in the electric car industry.
According to him, the technology has the potential to improve electric vehicle drive range and battery charge to such extent that electric vehicles will soon be “competitive with traditional petrol vehicles”
“Our research has shown by pre-treating lithium metal electrodes, we can create batteries with charge efficiency that greatly exceeds standard lithium batteries,” Dr Best said.
According to Dr Best, the pre-treatment process involves the immersion of lithium metal electrodes in an electrolyte bath containing a mixture of ionic liquids and lithium salts, prior to a battery being assembled.
“Ionic liquids or room temperature molten salts, are a unique class of material that are clear, colourless, odourless solutions and are non-flammable,” Mr Best explained.
“When used in batteries these materials can prevent the risk of fire and explosion, a known rechargeable battery issue.”
He said the salt bath pre-treatment adds a protective film onto the surface of the electrode that helps stabilise the battery when in operation.
“The pre-treatment reduces the breakdown of electrolytes during operation, which is what determines the battery’s increased performance and lifetime,” Dr Best said, adding that batteries that have undergone the process can also spend up to one year on the shelf without loss of performance.
QUT researcher Associate Professor Anthony O’Mullane said the method can be easily adopted by manufacturers.
“The pre-treatment process is readily transferrable to existing manufacturing processes,” Mr O’Mullane said.
According to the CSIRO, the research team, which is currently developing batteries based on this technology, is looking for partners to help bring these materials and devices to market.