Regardless of your feelings about the United States’ military industrial complex, it is a great engine of innovation. And one new area in which the military is aiming to innovate is in battery technology, improving energy density and cell stability.
- The US Military is doing cutting edge research on energy storage technology and may have developed a battery that will revolutionize electric devices.
- New aqueous lithium-ion cells could hold twice the energy per gram as current batteries while also being more durable and stable.
- Tesla’s battery expert sees the tech as promising and ultimately be one of the things leading to mass market adoption of EVs.
It makes sense, if you think about it. Virtually everything in our society is being electrified. And military brass want soldiers to not only carry the latest and greatest gadgets to better complete their missions, but also to do it without adding undue weight and risk. After all, an energy-dense battery isn’t worth lugging around if it’s unreasonably heavy or prone to combustion.
With this in mind, the military is funding studies to create lightweight, energy rich batteries that can take a walloping and still function over and over. According to a new study posted in the journal Nature, researchers from the CCDC Army Research Laboratory and the University of Maryland might have devised a new battery, called aqueous lithium-ion, that achieves those goals.
The new battery is said to have an energy density far exceeding a standard smartphone battery today. In more technical terms, it’s rated at 240 milliamps per hour per gram. Meanwhile a current smartphone battery is rated at 120-140 milliamps per hour per gram.
“Such a high-energy, safe and potentially flexible new battery will likely give soldiers what they need on the battlefield: a reliable high energy source with robust tolerance against abuse,” ARL Senior Research Chemist Dr. Kang Xu said.
Thankfully, researchers see more applications beyond the battlefield. Dr. Kang Xu foresees the battery tech being applied to “portable electronics, electric vehicles and large-scale grid storage.”
The aqueous lithium-ion battery breakthrough is so promising that it caught the attention of Tesla’s battery tech consultant Jeff Dahn.
“The fact that the LiCl and LiBr reversibly convert and form halogen intercalated graphite is truly incredible,” Dahn said. “The team has demonstrated encouraging reversibility for 150 cycles and has shown that high energy densities should be attainable in 4-volt cells that contain no transition metals and no non-aqueous solvents. It remains to be seen if a practical long-lived commercial cell can be developed, but I am very excited by this research.”
Of course, that last point is an area for potential hangups. Proving the new aqueous lithium-ion is feasible for large-scale commercial rollout will be time consuming and costly. However, it’s the kind of breakthrough that could really revolutionize the electric vehicle market — and turn it from a money-hemorrhaging part of global automakers’ bottomline to a profit center.
Like I’ve pointed out before, carmakers are losing money buying EV batteries, researching and developing EVs, and then again in the showrooms once they have to incentivize customers to buy them. Heck, even battery maker Panasonic is losing money on automotive batteries while sales climb. So, moving to a more energy-dense and stable battery could spur both profit and sales growth.
At least, we better hope it will. Without some sort of next-gen breakthrough, the inevitable transition from internal combustion engines to electrification could kill some automakers.