The increasing demand for electronic devices such as electric vehicles, cell phones, and computers has led to a surge in demand for lithium, a soft, alkali metal used in lithium-ion batteries. While lithium is abundant in certain countries, the mining process and safety concerns have prompted researchers to explore alternatives. LSU Mechanical Engineering Associate Professor Ying Wang is developing a non-metal rechargeable battery as a potential replacement for lithium batteries; The Ammonium-ion Battery
According to Professor Wang, lithium-ion batteries have several serious issues. They are unsustainable and expensive, and the US does not have deep reserves of lithium. Additionally, the extraction of lithium from mines requires a significant amount of water, which has a severe impact on the environment. Lithium batteries also use flammable and toxic organic solvents, which can pose safety risks. Further, lithium-ion batteries have a limited lifespan and gradually lose their capacity to store energy over time, which means they need to be replaced eventually. This can result in a significant amount of electronic waste.
Wang’s research group is working on a non-metal battery with a water-based electrolyte that is safer than the organic electrolyte used in lithium batteries. “There have been lithium battery explosions in the news. This is a recurring problem because when lithium batteries fail or overheat, they release flammable, toxic gases that can spark a fast-spreading fire. My group is designing an ammonium-ion battery that is much safer, lighter, more affordable, and can be biodegradable. It can also be made thin and flexible, so it can twist and bend,” Professor Wang.
According to the team, the ammonium-ion battery, which is being considered for use in space systems, features an aqueous electrolyte containing high-concentration salts that significantly depress the freezing point for operation at sub-zero temperatures. This anti-freezing electrolyte is easy to prepare by dissolving ammonium salt in water. The research team will vary and optimize the salt concentration to achieve the lowest possible freezing point, maximize ionic conductivity, and optimize the battery’s electrochemical performance. Finally, the battery will undergo rigorous testing under extreme conditions as required by NASA.
“This study is expected not only to open a new direction of research on non-metal batteries but will also enhance NASA research and technology while contributing to the overall research infrastructure, science and technology capabilities, diversity in higher education, and economic development of Louisiana,” Wang said