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The Quest for the Perfect Battery – How American Research May Empower the Sector


A solid-state replacement for the liquid electrolyte found in lithium-ion batteries would make the battery closer to perfect

Want to supercharge the speed and performance of your laptop? Switch to a solid state hard drive. No moving parts make a massive difference.

Take this same general thought process and apply it to batteries. You get a peek into why American researchers are popping champagne corks after moving closer to a super-safe and super-efficient battery. Here’s the backstory.

We love you, but…

A quick look at the statistics indicates the dominance of lithium-ion batteries. Research and technology has pushed their efficiency to a point of mass adoption for everything from smartphones to construction and landscaping equipment.

Even so, many portable energy source experts have long held the belief that a solid magnesium conductor would be superior to lithium-ion. Why?

The electrolyte challenge

Lithium-ion batteries use liquid to carry the electric charge inside the battery. It’s known as the electrolyte. Without this liquid, the lithium-ion battery simply doesn’t work. The limitation of the electrolyte is that it ultimately corrodes the battery, reducing longevity.

A recent discovery

Battery research is a highly competitive area. Nevertheless, two well-regarded laboratories teamed up to explore an alternative to the electrolyte used in lithium-ion batteries. West Coast-based Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory joined with the Midwest’s Argonne National Laboratory to pursue a magnesium-based battery.

Why magnesium? It has a higher density than lithium. The researchers knew that setting aside the idea of a liquid-based electrolyte in favor of a solid-state substance would transport ions faster. It would also make a battery more fire-resistant.

The joint research led to the creation of a material called magnesium scandium selenide spinel. Long name, but amazingly fast and efficient at being able to transport magnesium ions—thus doing what the liquid electrolyte does in lithium-ion batteries, but exponentially quicker.

More on magnesium

Here’s what else you need to know about magnesium—in case you tuned out during your high school or college chemistry course during the study of the periodic table of elements.

  • It’s a shiny gray, solid substance.
  • Magnesium the 4th most common element on our planet, and the 9th most abundant element in the universe (which also makes it attractive as an inexpensive source for battery-making).
  • It’s important in human bodies. Hundreds of enzymes need magnesium ions to function.
  • But wait, isn’t magnesium flammable? It is by itself, but the addition of scandium and calcium greatly reduces magnesium’s flammability.

Not ready for prime time

A solid-state battery is a promising direction for the industry, so this approach and the resulting discovery are extremely encouraging. Researchers at the two laboratories were quick to point out when publishing their findings that we won’t be seeing solid-state magnesium-based batteries powering devices any time soon.

The scientists noted, however, that the research is conclusive proof that it’s possible to make solid-state materials for use in batteries. Safer and even longer-lasting batteries are on the horizon.

At Triple E, we’re passionate about keeping pace with an evolving battery-powered equipment industry. For more information on the benefits of battery-powered construction, farming, and landscaping equipment, you can call us at (954)-978-3440 or reach us through our contact form.

March 21, 2018 By Alex Berg in Blog