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Li-ion co-inventor patents glass battery that could upturn auto industry

Published by
Bridie Schmidt

A patent for a new battery that uses glass as a key component submitted by a team headed by John Goodenough, the part winner of the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work as co-inventor of the now ubiquitous lithium-ion battery that is the go-to power source for electric cars and energy storage, is now active.

And the new glass battery promises to accelerate the shift away from internal combustion engines because it will deliver a significant increase in storage capacity.

By “spiking” glass with either sodium or lithium to form an electrode within the battery, the researchers say the new battery technology provides three times the energy storage capacity of comparable lithium-ion batteries.

It is also neither volatile nor flammable, and does not display issues of lithium dendrite growth that plagues li-ion batteries, which can cause short-circuits and present safety hazards.

First described in a 2016 paper published in Energy and Environmental Science, and now in a patent application activated on Sunday on behalf of the LNEG (National Laboratory of Energy and Geology) in Portugal, the University of Porto, Portugal and the University of Texas, the new glass battery electrode has the potential to upturn the transport industry.

That is, if it is commercialised. But according to Goodenough, who spoke with IEEE’s Spectrum magazine about the technology, the glass battery could finally break through the price barrier that hinders the uptake of electric cars.

“I think we have the possibility of doing what we’ve been trying to do for the last 20 years,” Goodenough, who is emeritus professor at the Cockrell School of Engineering at the University of Texas, Austin, told Spectrum.

“That is, to get an electric car that will be competitive in cost and convenience with the internal combustion engine.”

It could also be used to store intermittent solar and wind power on the electric grid, Goodenough tells Spectrum.

Fellow researcher Maria Helena Braga from the University of Texas, Austin says that early testing also suggests could also have “perhaps thousands” of  charge and discharge cycles, more than the average 1,000-2,000 cycles achievable in typical nickel-manganese-cobalt or lithium iron phosphate batteries.

Addtionally, the glass battery electrode has shown it can withstand a wider range of temperatures – between -20º C and 60º C.

“Rechargeable batteries containing a water-solvated glass/amorphous solid electrolyte described herein can provide a safe, low-cost stationary battery capable of storing a large amount of electrical energy for feeding the grid or charging the battery or capacitor of an electric vehicle since the temperature range of operation of a stationary battery can be kept small through all seasons at little cost,” reads the patent.

“The small activation energy for alkali-ion transport in the electrolyte can also make feasible an electric vehicle powered by a portable rechargeable battery that operates in a wide range of ambient temperatures.”

Of course, new battery technology that promises to make batteries safer and cheaper, as well as last longer and store more energy, are often reported on.

Only last week we reported on BYD’s new “Blade” lithium iron phosphate battery that the Chinese battery maker says deals with safety issues, or the new battery prototype described by EV startup Atlis Motors that promises to offer 10 minute charges for the high energy demand electric utility truck market.

And then there’s Samsung, which says it has cracked a puzzle holding back high-performance solid-state batteries that could offer 800km driving range.

But a respected MIT battery researcher Donald Sadoway, who also spoke with Spectrum, notes: “When John Goodenough makes an announcement, I pay attention. He’s tops in the field and really a fantastic scientist. So, his pronouncements are worth listening to.”

He questions however, the glass battery’s ability to sustain energy storage. As Braga tells Spectrum, the glass battery behaves somewhat like a supercapacitor, which can charge and discharge quickly but are not known for their ability to store large amounts of energy.

“The issue is not can you do something at a high charge rate,” he says. “My big question is about capacity fade and service lifetime.

“If he can give us an electrolyte that is devoid of these flammable, organic solvents, that’s salutary in my opinion,” Sadoway was quoted as saying by Spectrum.

While the glass electrolyte and an anode to complement it have been identified, holding back commercialisation of the technology is confirmation of a cathode to complete the picture.

“The next step is to verify that the cathode problem is solved,” Goodenough was quoted as saying by Spectrum.

“And when we do … we can scale up to large-scale cells. So far, we’ve made jelly-roll cells, and it looks like they’re working fairly well. So I’m fairly optimistic we’ll get there.”

For Goodenough, it is not about making money off the technology – after all, he’s now 94 years old.

“But the development is going to be with the battery manufacturers. I don’t want to do development. I don’t want to be going into business. I’m 94. I don’t need the money,” he was quoted as saying.

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An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to the University of Porto, Portugal as the University of Portugal, and the article has since been updated to clarify that the patent application has been activated.

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