By Jonny Wakefield
May 1, 2014
An American government lab is pushing the envelope on the maximum capacity of lithium-carbon fluoride batteries.
The Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee has developed a battery of "unprecedented energy density," pushing storage capacity more than 26 percent past the theoretical maximum. According to the lab, the chemistry opens the door to batteries with lifespans lasting decades.
The lab describes the new battery chemistry as "unconventional," in that it ascribes double roles to battery components that were once thought of as discrete.
The key development is the interaction between the electrolyte, the "juice" of the battery (which conducts charged particles), and the cathode, the positively charged element in the battery. The lab has developed a "bi-functional" electrolyte that acts not only as a conductor, but a supplement to the cathode.
"As the battery discharges, it generates a lithium fluoride salt that further catalyzes the electrochemical activity of the electrolyte," ORNL scientist Chengdu Liang said in a release.
According to the release, "this cooperative chemistry, enabled by the use of an ORNL-developed solid electrolyte, delivers an extra boost to the battery's capacity and extends the lifespan of the device."
The new developments apply only to non-rechargeable batteries.
The most widespread implications are for the medical field. ORNL says the new battery makes it possible to develop pacemakers that effectively never need to be replaced. Whereas some pacemaker batteries have lifespans of a decade, the new bi-functional electrolyte could lead to batteries that last 30 to 50 years.
Industry site Clean Technica says the battery's implications for the renewables sector are somewhat limited, since they cannot be recharged to store significant amounts of electricity generated by wind or solar power. The real boon for clean tech comes in the potential for "significant resource conservation."