A team led by John Goodenough, the man who played a key role in creating the lithium-ion battery, thinks it has cracked a replacement.
Goodenough, 94, and his merry band at the University of Texas have developed a solid-state battery that has three times the energy storage of a similarly sized li-ion power pack, can handle more charging cycles, will recharge much more quickly than conventional batteries, and won't burst into flames if damaged.
"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," Goodenough said.
Rather than using liquid electrolytes, the solid-state battery uses glass electrolytes and an alkali-metal anode, which could be made of lithium, sodium or potassium. Using such an anode increases the energy density of a cathode and the battery is very resilient, with the team taking it through 1,200 recharges without loss of performance.
Using glass electrolytes also has its own advantages. They can operate at very low temperatures – down to -20 degrees Celsius – and don't need complex chemistry. They were developed by Cockrell School senior research fellow Maria Helena Braga, who worked with Goodenough on the project.
"The glass electrolytes allow for the substitution of low-cost sodium for lithium. Sodium is extracted from seawater that is widely available," she said.
Finally, and most importantly for some purposes, the batteries shouldn't, in theory, catch fire. Exploding batteries are a serious problem, as Samsung and Boeing found out to their detriment, and having a safer alternative would be welcomed by many.
Here at El Reg we've seen far too many stories about battery advances that never pan out. But if someone of the stature of Goodenough is on board, this looks like it could be a winner. ®