Lithium-ion rechargeable battery technology is currently the most reliable energy storage that we have, having found its way into everything from portable electronic devices to hybrid electric jumbo jets.
The main reason for this popularity is the longevity of the cells compared to their energy density. Some rechargeable batteries have particularly long life-spans, thousands of cycles, but don’t have the density needed to go portable, especially in a vehicle or electronic device.
On the other hand, there are some battery formulations that have 1,000x better energy density than lithium-ion, but only last a few cycles. Balancing lifespan and density is a delicate act, but there are always ways to improve on the technology.
Nanotechnology has been researching ways to make catalysts for lithium-ion and other formulations that could significantly improve the range and lifespan of batteries used in electric vehicles and many other applications.
The only problem with some of these processes is they aren’t very clean. Any advance in energy storage is going to need a responsible decrease in environmental impact. After all, what sense does it make to put 2 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere manufacturing a battery if the battery is only going to remove 1 pound?
Los Alamos National Laboratory [LANL] has recently developed a new carbon catalyst that could revolutionize lithium-ion batteries. It is nanostructured, but doesn’t use the same energy- and chemically-intensive production methods that carbon nanotubes use, for example.
In spite of this, the resulting catalyst has about 10x more energy storage potential than lithium-ion without resorting to the use of rare-earth metals like platinum or gold. The new method is scalable and “makes possible the creation of economical lithium-air batteries that could power electric vehicles, or provide efficient, reliable energy storage for intermittent sources of green energy, such as windmills or solar panels,” according to Los Alamos researcher Piotr Zelenay.
Image©Los Alamos National Laboratory