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Aluminum-Ion Battery Breakthrough At Stanford

Stanford aluminum ion battery is breakthrough technology
Schematic of the Stanford aluminum ion battery: Meng-Chang Lin & Hongjie Dai

A team of Stanford researchers led by chemistry professor Hongjie Dai has developed an aluminum-ion battery that offers many significant advantages over the conventional lithium-ion batteries currently used in most electronic devices and today’s electric cars. Let’s take a look at what makes the Stanford aluminum-ion battery such an important breakthrough.

Not a fire hazard

The aluminum battery won’t burst into flame the way a lithium battery can. “[L]ithium batteries can go off in an unpredictable manner – in the air, the car or in your pocket,” says professor Dai.

That’s important because in automobiles, a lithium-ion battery needs a heavy shield around it to protect the car from damage if the battery ignites. And because of that shielding, a lithium-ion battery needs its own dedicated cooling system, which adds even more weight and cost. Extra pounds mean automobile manufacturers have to specify larger batteries and larger motors to lug around the increased weight. That raises the cost of the car, which raises its price in the marketplace.

Fast charging

The Stanford aluminum battery can be recharged in far less time than a lithium-ion battery — in as little as one minute in some applications. The implications for laptop computers and cell phones are huge, but the impact on electric and hybrid cars could be even bigger.

One of the biggest drawbacks to electric and hybrid cars today, besides high cost, is the number of hours it takes to recharge a depleted battery. If a driver knew recharging the battery would take no longer than the time it takes to pump a tankful of gas, that would break down one of the biggest remaining barriers to the widespread adoption of such environmentally friendly vehicles.

Long life

A typical lithium-ion battery usually lasts for about 1000 discharge cycles before it must be replaced. The Stanford aluminum battery shows no sign of losing performance after 7,500 discharge cycles. Lots of drivers have concerns about having to spend a lot of money to replace the battery in their EV after a few years. That worry could now be a thing of the past. The aluminum-ion battery could actually last longer than the car itself.

Cost

Aluminum is abundant and costs less than lithium. That could drive down the cost of batteries and that would be another factor working in favor of electric cars going mainstream sooner rather than later.

Environmental Advantages

Stanford aluminum ion battery is breakthrough technology
(Photo by Mark Shwartz, Stanford University)

Lithium is toxic and must be disposed of with care. Aluminum is non-toxic and can be recycled repeatedly. Billions of small lithium batteries power our assortment of electronic gadgets that we can’t live without. Replacing them with aluminum batteries would rid the environment of hazards from discarded lithium batteries.

Another advantage of the aluminum battery is it is flexible, so it can be shaped and molded to fit a variety of applications that can’t use a lithium battery encased in a hard protective shell.

Disadvantages

There is no free lunch, of course. For now, the Stanford aluminum battery can only supply about half the voltage of a lithium battery. “But improving the cathode material could eventually increase the voltage and energy density,” professor Dai says.

“Otherwise, our battery has everything else you’d dream that a battery should have: inexpensive electrodes, good safety, high-speed charging, flexibility and long cycle life. I see this as a new battery in its early days. It’s quite exciting.”

“Exciting” is an understatement.

Source: Phys.Org




22 comments
  1. Wayne Williamson

    pretty poor article…not blaming the author here, as I’ve seen the same thing on other sites. All the inventors needed to do was say how many times it could be recharged, how quick it can be recharged and what the energy density is. Aluminum is pretty much dirt cheap. If the energy density is a factor of 10 more than lion, then it moves into the realm of lead acid…just say’n…

  2. K A CHEAH

    BY THE TIME GRAPHENE ALUMINUM ION AND AIR HYBRID HIGH DENSITY BATTERY, THE HOLY GRAIL OF POWER STORAGE IS MADE AVAILABLE, THAT CAN RUN THE BEV ONE THOUSAND MILES OR MORE WITHOUT A NEED OF A RECHARGE, THAT WILL ALSO MAKE BEV’S PRODUCTION COST MOST COMPETITIVE AND MOST AFFORDABLE, THEN THE FOSSIL FUEL ERA FOR ICE VEHICLES IS FINALLY ENDING, SO THE WORLD’S FUTURE IS FOR ALL BEV WEANING FROM SOLAR, WIND, WAVE, HYDRO, GEOTHERMAL AND OTHER NON- FOSSIL FUEL, NON-TOXIC AND NON-HARMFUL SOURCES OF RENEWABLE POWER PRODUCTION. REGRET USING ALL CAPITALS AS MY EYESIGHT IS POOR AS THAT IS THE ONLY WAY I CAN READ WHAT I OF TYPED.

  3. Obama

    Aluminium is toxic, not lithium.
    Aluminium causes Alzheimers and dementia, plus other health related issues and this has been known for decades. I’m sure it will be OK as car batteries though, but not as cookware and as long as the batteries are recycled and don’t leach into the groundwater and rivers and dams.

  4. BtotheT

    I think these would work well paired with renewables or household storage due to the product life cycle alone.
    Not every application has to be light and small. I’d dedicate a room the size of a basement bathroom to whatever could be a long lasting household storage, be that aluminum or vanadium.
    Aluminum being a recyclable substance further promotes sustainability which really should be one of the highest priorities of modern living. When the product cycle ends in 25-50 years, you have it picked up and recycled with a 5% refund for the materials they’ll reuse.

    1. Obama

      Yes, and no aluminium gets used up inside the battery over it’s lifespan and the metal itself is not a form of energy, but rather a method of storing energy. The metals are fully recyclable.

      1. BtotheT

        Yeah, Aluminum’s also great for heat transfer/retention plates with applications like heating/cooling and onsite water purification/sterilization. Even turning waste heat(solar thermal) into power via heat differential through either the peltier effect or thermionic generation.
        While heating water for example(which may or may not take power to inniate) the differential between the water and the heating plate itself can be recaptured and either fed back into the process or else where(maybe a UV LED for sterilization).

    2. Steve Hanley

      I agree with your analysis. There’s nothing saying a battery that is good for residential or grid electrical storage has to also be good for EV’s as well.

      As for voltage, I read somewhere recently that some auto maker is experimenting with a 48V drivetrain. Part of the reason for that is that any system using 60V or less does not need to have such an elaborate system of shielding and other safety provisions designed to protect occupants and emergency workers from electrical shock. And the advantage of that? Less cost and less weight.

      The use of electricity in automobiles is at roughly the same place gasoline engines was 100 years ago. It’s a whole new ball game and there will be lots and lots of new ideas and new players in the marketplace just as there were back then.

      Exciting times, but many of those ideas and companies will ultimately fail commercially or get absorbed by others.

  5. Steve Hanley

    Please keep in mind that this is news of an experimental battery. Whether it ever makes it out of the laboratory is anyone’s guess.

    I am not chemist, arne, but I don’t believe the liquid electrolyte used in lithium ion batteries is anything I would care to have mixed in with my evening cocktail.

    Progress on battery technology will be steady and slow. 10 years from now, batteries will be quite unlike those we have today. Right now, most people won’t consider an electric car because they are too expensive, take too long to recharge and have limited range. That is all going to change with time, but probably a lot more slowly than we would wish for.

    1. Obama

      Apparently the energy density of batteries has increased 8 percent every decade or something. A little low, but not too bad, we are VERY near mass adoption of electric vehicles now and the next gerneration of lithium ion batteries alone will allow this to take place – time estimate: 2016/2017.

    2. Obama

      The Nissan leaf has sold quite a bit already – nearly 1 million worldwide since it was brought out. The next generation of batteries will allow this amount to increase over ten fold – 2016/2017.

  6. omar

    Energy density is the main problem for EVs with Li battery but the fast charging ability could balance the low energy density of Al batteries.

    1. Obama

      More cells = more weight. They can improve the cathode to address this issue according to the article, take another look at what they wrote.

      I do wonder what energy density this battery has though, compared to lithium batteries. Energy density determines how long one charge will last before needing recharging again and this impact the battery life, for electric vehicles as well (not battery lifespan, but batery life).

      1. S.T.A.L.K.E.R

        I believe the issue if with the thickness of the battery, looking at it I can say it’s paper thin, or cardboard thin. This might be the issue with its capacity, where as Li-ion doesn’t have this issue. Stacking multiple cells would achieve same characteristics for a similar size but would also require a collector circuit. For large applications this wouldn’t be a problem, but for gadgets it would.

  7. arne-nl

    “Lithium is toxic and must be disposed of with care”

    Lithium is not toxic in the common sense. Well of course, in the end
    all materials are toxic. Even oxygen can be toxic to humans. But generally, lithium is not considered toxic.

    Please don’t spread unnecessary FUD. You know how easily this is blown out of proportion and misused by the fossil fuel addicts that want to imprint this in our psyche.

    From Battery University:

    “Nickel-metal-hydride is considered non-toxic and the only concern is the
    electrolyte. Although toxic to plants, nickel is not harmful to humans.
    Lithium-ion is similarly benign – the battery contains little toxic
    material. Nevertheless, caution is required when working with a damaged
    battery. When handling a spilled battery, do not touch your mouth, nose
    and eyes, and wash your hands thoroughly.”

    From Wikipedia:

    “Environmental concerns and recycling

    Since Li-ion batteries contain less toxic metals than other types of batteries which may contain lead or cadmium[47] they are generally categorized as non-hazardous waste. Li-ion battery elements including iron, copper, nickel and cobalt are considered safe for incinerators and landfills.]”

    1. Bowd

      Lithium is a neuroactive drug and overexposure is toxic. When patients are given lithium they must have their serum levels closely monitored. The toxicity pneumonic we learn is LMNOP… Lithium; Movement (tremors), Nephrogenic Diabetes Insipidus, hypOthyroidism, Pregnancy (Epstein’s anomaly).

      Here is the wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithium_%28medication%29#Overdose

      It says that overdoses of 1.5 mmol/L (or ~ 10.5 mg/L) may be fatal.

      1. Obama

        True, however, it is probably less toxic than aluminium which causes Alzheimers disease and is a heavy metal that accumulates in the body and brain (although not “heavy” in the literal sense).

        PS – Lithium orotate is a natural, effective, far less toxic form of lithium that is suitable for those with bipolar disorder in place of the toxic pharmaceutical drug versions of the metal. In fact it’s good for you health in general even if you don’t have bipolar – as a trace mineral.

        1. S.T.A.L.K.E.R

          More wrong than right. Aluminum does not accumulate in healthy individuals. What might have confused you is the bioaccumulation term, which I can see could have confused you. Bioaccumulation has nothing to do with permanent accumulation, it’s just a term used to describe the ratio of intake to excretion of an unnecessary substance. As I’ve said, healthy individuals even if they ingest aluminum compounds, the body has the ability to eliminate them. For genetic inheritance of an incapacity there’s not much anyone can do about it. If certain countries/regions exhibit a higher rate of a certain old-age disease that that’s because of inheritance. The only way the body would accumulate a very low quantity of aluminum in healthy individuals would be if such compounds would be intravenously injected. Lithium on the other hand… it functions with the help of halogens and other substances which in turn are responsible for contamination. The lack of interest of US to recycle batteries boils down to cost and nothing more and without long term studies, no one can point for a bill draft for what tens of tons of batteries dumped each year could pose for US environment. I know EU takes the other way and imposes recycling.

          1. Obama

            Not true, while there is some disagreement, it appears as if it does in healthy individuals (implied). Read past the middle of this abstract on a review of studies on Aluminium from pubmed (National Institute of Health) and get to the END part. – – – – – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11130287
            Luckily we don’t eat batteries, and cookware and injections are more dangerous in this regard, although I guess some may eventually leach from old batteries into groundwater, should we start using Aluminium in batteries.

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