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Battery Development Room-temperature liquid-metal battery could provide more power than lithium-ion

From Luke James

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Researchers in the U.S. claim to have developed a liquid-metal battery that could be used to provide more power than current lithium-ion batteries while also being able to charge faster.

Lithium-ion batteries might get competition.
Lithium-ion batteries might get competition.
(Source: Public Domain / Unsplash)

A research team at the Cockrell School of Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) say that they have developed a new type of battery which combines many of the benefits of existing battery technology while simultaneously eliminating their key shortfalls and saving energy.
According to the research team, their battery is able to provide all the benefits of both solid- and liquid-state, such as more energy, stability, and flexibility. Their research was published in the journal Advanced Materials in June 2020.

Providing more power than lithium-ion technology

Liquid metal battery could provide more power than lithium-ion at room temperature
Liquid metal battery could provide more power than lithium-ion at room temperature
(Source: University of Texas at Austin)

Although solid-state batteries are at the core of many of the electronics that we use today and have significant energy storage capacity, they face many challenges over time. The most widely known challenges are those of degradation, which can lead to leaks and fires, and efficiency losses, which can see batteries last for less time per charge cycle. In contrast, a liquid-metal battery is able to deliver energy at a much higher efficiency and without any long-term degradation. However, these liquid-metal alternatives often fall short of the mark or require significant resources to heat the electrodes and keep them in a molten state when it comes to high-energy applications.

However, thanks to the UT Austin team’s research, this problem could be a thing of the past. The team says that it has developed a battery where the metallic electrodes can remain liquefied at low temperatures of only 20 degrees Celsius. This is the lowest operating temperature recorded to date for a liquid-metal battery, which typically require temperatures of around 240 degrees Celsius.

“This battery can provide all the benefits of both solid- and liquid-state – including more energy, increased stability and flexibility – without the respective drawbacks, while also saving energy,” said Yu Ding, lead author of the team’s research paper.

Highly flexible and scalable

The battery’s anode is made from a sodium-potassium alloy with a gallium-based alloy used as the cathode. In their paper, the UT Austin research team acknowledge that it may be possible to create a battery with even lower melting points by using different materials.

Since the battery is made out of liquid components, it can easily be scaled up or down to meet changing power demands. This could make it ideal for use as a renewable energy storage medium, an area that sees fluctuating supply and demand as conditions change. According to the research team, the next step for them is to increase the battery’s power capacity by improving its electrolytes. “Although our battery cannot compete with high-temperature, liquid-metal batteries at the current stage, better power capability is expected if advanced electrolytes are designed with high conductivity,” Ding said.


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