New glass battery could recharge 23,000 times

A new glass battery developed by John Goodenough, one of the winners of the 2019 Nobel Prize for the invention of the lithium ion battery, is moving into the commercialization stage of development with Canadian electric utility Hydro-Quebec. 

The new glass battery was developed by Goodenough – who is 97 years old and still an active professor at the University of Texas – and Maria Helena Braga, professor of engineering at the University of Porto in Portugal. (The photograph above shows Prof. Goodenough receiving the National Medal of Science from fellow Nobel Laureate Barack Obama. Photo credit: University of Texas).

Professor Goodenough told the IEEE Spectrum (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) that “the lithium- or sodium-glass battery has three times the energy storage capacity of a comparable lithium-ion battery.” The paper he and his team published about the technology in 2018 claims “a charge/discharge cycle life of over 23,000 cycles” and Professor Braga has said it charges in “minutes rather than hours”. (For comparison, the claim for the million mile Tesla battery making a lot of news is that it can go through 4,000 cycles while retaining 90% of its efficiency.)

Glass battery has solid state electrolyte

The battery’s electrolyte – the material that enables electrical charge to flow between the positive and negative electrodes – is a glass doped with metals. Because it is a solid it holds the promise of having higher energy density – storing more electricity in less weight.

Solid state batteries are seen as the next big breakthrough in battery technology not only because of the lower weight/higher energy density, but also because of low risk of fire or explosion.

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We’ve written before about how there are a lot of claims about batteries in research labs, but the real test comes in whether they can be mass produced (for a reasonable price) and commercialized. Two batteries that do make claims about higher energy densities and also seem to have real possibilities of making it to market are the Oryx and the Prologium.

glass battery will be developed in this Hydro Quebec laboratory where a worker is analyzing chemicalsThis lithium-glass battery also looks promising. The financial and human resources of a huge corporation like Hydro Quebec building on the innovation and breakthroughs of Goodenough and Braga offer the opportunity to do extensive testing and open doors to potential customers. Prof. Goodenough said in 2017 “I don’t want to do development. I don’t want to be going into business. I’m 94. I don’t need the money.”

While Hydro-Quebec’s main business is running 63 hydroelectric power stations with a massive combined output capacity of 37.4 gigawatts, it also operates a highly regarded 120 person research lab, the Center of Excellence in Transportation Electrification and Energy Storage

This is far from the first time Hydro Quebec has worked with the Nobel Prize winner.  Karim Zaghib, head of the Centre , says “Hydro-Québec was the first company to work on true lithium batteries in 1979”, and it worked with Prof. Goodenough in 1996 to commercialize the now fairly common LiFePo4 battery in 1996. The chemistry is used and recommended by many electric boat and motor manufacturers and is also used in electric buses and for energy storage. (LiFePo is Li: Lithium – Fe IRON, not ion – Po: Phosphate.)

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Earlier this month Hydro Quebec announced that they are also working with Mercedes-Benz  on a different solid state battery technology, which is being referred to as ‘second generation’ lithium solid state. The new glass battery is considered ‘third generation’.

Zaghib said of the Goodenough/Braga battery’s electrolyte that “It can be glass or ceramic, but it is not a polymer. The Daimler battery is an organic compound, and this is an inorganic compound, with higher ionic conductivity compared to the polymer.” In as close as we can get to plain English, that means the ions in the battery shuttle back and forth between the electrodes more readily. Hence (potentially) larger capacity, faster charging and more charging cycles.

He also said about the timeline “For the next two years we do research and development in order to prove the concept and to scale the materials.” That coincides almost precisely with what Professor Barga said last June when she projected that “it will first be used in a commercial product in three years.”  So if all goes well, the era of lighter, higher capacity (and non-flammable) batteries may soon be upon us.

Exciting things are happening every day in electric boats and boating.
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