Demand for Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries has increased significantly as products such as smartphones, laptops, electric vehicles, and grid storage batteries rise in popularity. However, Li-ion batteries have numerous safety and performance limitations due to their flammable electrolyte and the charge storage density of their active materials, which are not easily overcome by incremental progress. New types of high-performance separators and electrodes built with solid-state ion conductors could simultaneously improve the energy density and safety of lithium ion batteries by removing the most flammable battery components, and also improving the driving range and durability of electric vehicles. Solid-state separators also open the door to the use of lithium metal as an active material, resulting in a significant increase in cell energy content, and the subject of research efforts for the past several decades. New battery technology that employs energy dense, thermally stable, and long-lasting materials will also be of interest for grid storage, particularly in dense, urban environments where the space occupied by storage systems is more of a concern.
Project Innovation + Advantages:
American Manufacturing, in collaboration with the University of Colorado at Boulder, will develop a flash sintering system to manufacture solid lithium-conducting electrolytes with high ionic conductivity. Conventional sintering is the process of compacting and forming a solid mass by heat and/or pressure without melting it to the point of changing it to a liquid, similar to pressing a snowball together from loose snow. In conventional sintering a friable ceramic “bisque” is heated for several hours at very high temperatures until it becomes dense and strong. Oxide ceramics for solid-state electrolytes have high melting points, and some are chemically stable and do not react with lithium metal, which can reduce cost and maximize energy density. But the sintering process requires several hours at very high temperatures (1100°C). These conditions conflict with the fast movement of lithium atoms in the solid state, which is a key property of the electrolyte. Therefore, the manufacture of these electrolytes by the conventional sintering process is a key barrier to their cost and viability. In contrast, flash sintering can occur in fewer than 5 seconds, at temperatures below 800°C, and can prevent the loss of lithium experienced in conventional sintering. This project is expected to improve lithium battery technology in the following ways: lowering the cost of sintering and processing; enhancing productivity through roll-to-roll manufacturing of co-sintered multilayers ready to be inserted into devices; and hastening the discovery of new materials by shortening the time between synthesis of new chemistries and their electrochemical evaluation to days instead of months.
If successful, developments made under the IONICS program will increase the energy storage content for vehicle batteries by about 30% compared to today's Li-ion batteries and significantly reduce battery storage system costs.
IONICS program innovations could contribute to energy storage solutions for transportation and the grid, lessening U.S. dependence on imported oil and improving grid resilience.
A 10% increase in electric vehicle use would reduce US oil consumption by 3% and reduce total US CO2 emissions by 1%.
IONICS program innovations could further establish U.S. businesses as technical leaders in energy storage, encouraging greater use of readily available renewable resources and increasing the competitiveness of electric vehicles.