Glass Batteries Could Soon Power Our Devices

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Lithium-ion batteries are likely to face some new competition as the go-to energy source for gadgets of all sizes.

The co-inventor of the lithium-ion battery, an energy staple for decades, has developed an “all-solid-state” battery that could revolutionize the battery market — again.

Professor John Goodenough was a co-inventor of the lithium-ion battery in 1980. Credit: National Medals/YouTube

The breakthrough battery, developed by 94-year-old John Goodenough, professor in the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin, features a noncombustible design and can recharge in a fraction of the time of a standard battery.

Goodenough and fellow researchers believe the new-age battery, which uses glass electrolytes to transfer lithium ions instead of the liquid electrolytes found in today’s lithium-ion products, holds vast potential to recharge the current electronics and device market.

“Cost, safety, energy density, rates of charge and discharge and cycle life are critical for battery-driven cars to be more widely adopted. We believe our discovery solves many of the problems that are inherent in today’s batteries,” said John Goodenough.

The liquid electrolytes found in standard batteries can lead to the formation of dendrites, which can cause explosions, fires and generally a quicker demise of rechargeable batteries. With the glass-based energy transferal process, the new batteries offer greater energy density and a much longer life cycle.

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In experiments, the researchers found that the all-solid batteries can cycle through 1,200 charges and recharges with minimal signs of wear and tear. Additionally, the new batteries replace a key element of the old guard with a component that’s more readily available and far less expensive.

“The glass electrolytes allow for the substitution of low-cost sodium for lithium. Sodium is extracted from seawater that is widely available,” said Maria Helena Braga, senior research fellow with the Cockrell School.

“The result is a safe, low-cost, lithium or sodium rechargeable battery of high energy density and long cycle life,” report the researchers in Energy & Environmental Science.

A Closer Look at How It Works

Goodenough and his colleagues are currently working to obtain several patents for their new work and think that the refurbished technology already is advanced enough to begin working with vehicle makers and device manufacturers on implementation strategies.

Goodenough’s glass batteries, pictured in the background, can charge in a fraction of the time it takes standard batteries. Credit: Transport Evolved/YouTube

A key feature of the glass-based batteries is that they can be up to three times as dense as conventional batteries, something that imparts a longer lifespan on a single charge. The glass electrolytes also allow for an easier time plating and stripping the alkali metals within the battery, which makes manufacturing faster and less expensive.

Another big selling point is that the solid-glass electrolytes allow the batteries to operate across a range of temperatures — a high point of conductivity remains in frigid temperatures. In fact, the researchers found that the glass batteries operated successfully at 140 degrees Fahrenheit below zero.

The new research marks a potentially significant advancement in the long line of battery production. The first battery, created by an Italian physicist named Alessandro Volta, arrived in 1800.  Yet the “first great leap forward” came with Goodenough’s invention of the lithium-ion battery in 1980.

Now we may be witnessing the next momentous step ahead.

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Richard Scott
Richard Scott is a health care reporter focusing on health policy and public health. Richard keeps tabs on national health trends from his Philadelphia location and is an active member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.