MIT battery breakthrough gains on gasoline

MIT researchers have devised a way to make batteries with an energy density more comparable to gasoline.

Lithium peroxide sticks to carbon nanotubes as the battery discharges. Photo: Courtesy of Mitchell, Gallant, and Shao-Horn.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) recently revealed an energy storage breakthrough that could one day make batteries more commercially competitive with gasoline.

Scientists dramatically increased the energy density in lithium-air (or lithium-oxygen) batteries with the introduction of carbon nanotubes to the cathode. Though tiny, the nanotubes allow a battery to hold considerably more lithium oxide as the battery discharges.

"We were able to create a novel carpet-like material — composed of more than 90 percent void space — that can be filled by the reactive material during battery operation," says Yang Shao-Horn, a Gail E. Kendall Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science and Engineering at MIT.

The net effect is more time between discharges, less weight, and an energy density much closer to gasoline than previous attempts at the technology. The battery can store four times more energy for its weight than current lithium-ion battery electrodes, MIT stated in its press release.

Shao-Horn noted that more work was necessary before the technology could become commercialized; nonetheless, science bloggers have already begun to visualize its use in the transportation industry, and even in the creation of hybrid aircraft.

Advances in battery technology are a welcomed development; energy storage has been a drag on the adoption of electric vehicles, and engineers have must devise sometimes unorthodox solutions for electricity generation.

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