Lithium-air batteries, which run on ambient oxygen, may just be a sustainable and environment-friendly way to store energy and power electric vehicles, houses, and industries of the future, scientists say. Current lithium-ion battery technology will probably not be able to handle the coming decades' huge demand for energy. It is estimated that by 2050, electricity will make up 50 percent of the world's energy mix. Today, that rate is 18 percent. However, installed capacity for renewable energy production is expected to increase fourfold. This will require batteries that are more efficient, cheaper and environmentally friendly.
According to researchers from University of Campinas in Brazil, one of the alternatives being studied today in many parts of the world is the lithium-air battery. The lithium-air battery, currently functioning only on a laboratory scale, uses ambient oxygen as a reagent. The battery stores additional energy through an electrochemical reaction that results in the formation of lithium oxide.
"There is a lot of talk today about electric cars. Some European countries are also thinking about banning combustion engines," said Rubens Maciel Filho, a professor at the University of Campinas.
"In addition, renewable sources like solar energy need batteries to store what is generated during the day through solar radiation," said Filho.
"It is a sustainable way to store electrical energy. With advances, it can support numerous discharge/charge cycles. It has great potential for use in transportation, in light and heavy vehicles alike. It can also work in electric power distribution networks," said Filho.
However, turning experiments into commercially viable products involves understanding the fundamentals of the electrochemical reactions that occur in the process.
"It also requires the development of new materials that allow us to leverage desirable reactions and minimise or avoid undesirable ones," said Maciel, director of the New Energy Innovation Center (CINE).
Maciel said that some of the phenomena need to be observed in operando, or in other words, in real time. More efficient batteries are particularly important in a scenario in which the use of solar energy is expected to increase. Peak solar radiation during the day will require the need for efficient storage of energy so it can be drawn upon at night.