The power of the supercomputers we all now carry in our pockets has been a function of exponential transistor miniaturisation for over 50 years, but its not the only factor in play. A slower developing but equally critical field of research will soon start to improve not only the number of hours you can get our of your smartphone but also the range of your electric car and how soon your home can rely 100% on your roof’s PV panels. So much of our future depends on batteries.
The brainchild of Ju Li from MIT, lithium-air batteries have taken an old idea and tweaked it into a new generation of technology now nearing commercialization. The trick is to have oxygen available for Lithium ions to store and release extra electrons for charge. Using a chemical called lithium superoxide (LiO2) in the matrix of a cobalt oxide seems to solve issues relating to oxygen in the past degenerating the batteries too quickly. In practise, this means a doubling of the Lithium-based battery’s energy density and potentially doubling it again with additional research along these lines.
The implications for renewable systems well beyond the super-computer in your pocket may be profound, with the businesses like Tesla’s cars and home battery units benefiting massively when in many cases the generation of renewable energy from sun and wind will approach parity with fossil fuels within 5 years or sooner. The only remaining major hurdle before the mass adoption of renewable electricity energy infrastructure will be how electricity can be competitively stored between generation and use. MIT’s Dr Li and her team may have just pushed us much closer to that tipping point.