Lithium-ion batteries, which today power everything from the smartphones we carry in our pockets to the electric cars we drive, are predicted to account for 80% of the rechargeable battery market in the coming years.
There’s a good reason for their popularity—lithium-ion battery better offer the battery capacity, efficiency and longevity than others on the current market. However, they are still quite expensive and can catch fire or explode under extreme conditions.
Two leading battery experts at the University of Houston think the gold-standard lithium-ion battery is about to have some competition. They are betting on a modest aqueous battery—with a water-based electrolyte—generally considered safe, reliable, and affordable.
“The idea is to develop this kind of thing,” said Yan Yao, Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen, Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and principal investigator at the Texas Superconducting Center at the University of Houston. Advanced water batteries can combine better safety and higher voltages.” . Yao has been leading research into energy storage materials and devices for about a decade now. His team is on a mission to create better, safer, and less expensive batteries.
Yao and Yanliang “Leonard” Liang, research assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, were recently invited by Nature Assessment Document to consider the development of rechargeable water batteries. “Modern water cell design” highlights key breakthroughs over the past decade, and provides guidance and direction for new research.
“Our review was broad-based because we wanted to paint a big picture of the water battery landscape,” says Liang. “If we don’t understand the big picture, we can’t know where the next opportunity will be.”
Where are the water batteries now and where are they needed?
Big push towards electrification in almost every aspect of life, growing demand for consumer electronics and tram and the need to store enough renewable energy is driving the demand for batteries higher and higher.
Commercial water batteries that exist today lack energy density and long-term energy needs to be seriously considered for large-scale application such as grid transport and storage.
However, Liang and Yao emphasize that innovations related to materials and chemicals, along with other research advances, have created new opportunities for a more advanced, modern form of water battery.
Rechargeable water batteries offer many advantages—abundant raw materials and low cost; minimum requirements for production environments; Not flammable; simple fabrication and high powerdetermine the time it takes to fully charge and accelerate from 0 to 60 mph.
They also have disadvantages—the thermodynamic stability window is narrow, misoperation can lead to explosion and of course low energy density.
According to the authors, there are modern versions made with innovative materials that are in the early stages of commercialization, which are important developments in the transition to the next major battery research breakthrough. .
The goal was to create an advanced water battery that could give the best of both worlds. “This new water-based battery will offer better safety and higher voltage,” says Yao.
Breakthrough water battery design
Designing a new and improved version of the water battery that will revolutionize the battery market is no easy task. It requires knowledge of the most fundamental intricacies and new technologies to create the ideal version—from mixing and matching ion-selective membranes and coatings with dilute aqueous electrolytes, to New electrode response type and modular cell design.
According to the researchers, the goal is to widen the electrochemical stability window, allowing battery chemistry to operate over wider voltage ranges and generate more power, leading to new opportunities.
“The way we integrate the different components will have a profound impact in this area,” Liang said. “We have to mix and match and try new combinations. Sometimes this will bring improvement in one area, but it affects another. We have to be realistic and keep trying. make it better and better.”
It’s all about coming up with smart combinations that will deliver the dual goals of high power and high safety.
Liang, who has a research interest in everything from solid-state and water-based batteries to multivalent metal batteries, as well as lithium and sodium batteries, hopes that the ideal can be achieved with modern tools and new discoveries. “One day you will have a water battery with the same voltage as a lithium-ion battery, but it will be safer because it is water-based,” he said.
However, researchers will have to continue to pursue improvements to make their hopes of an advanced water cell commercially viable. There is a great impetus for researchers—not only will water batteries of the future be more energy efficient and safer, but also make battery disposal easier for the environment thanks to materials use.
Yao and Liang recently founded a startup called LiBeyond to scale and further develop innovative battery technologies originally developed at UH. They envision possible applications in electric vehicles and other transportation sectors to help power entire fleets of vehicles and grid-scale storage.
“This will be especially important when grid reliability is a key factor, such as during situations like hurricanes, winter storms and other emergencies,” said Yao. He added that wearable technologies will also benefit from this development.
“One of the key features of water batteries is safety, which is important in wearable technologies because you ‘wear’ them directly on your body,” he said. “The possibilities that these modern water batteries will bring [once developed] is endless.”
Yanliang Liang et al., Modern water battery design, Nature Assessment Document (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41578-022-00511-3
University of Houston
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