Reinventing Lithium-ion Battery Technology

Massachusetts-based SolidEnergy Systems believe they have made a telling breakthrough in lithium-ion technology. Attempting to follow through on their company slogan, ‘Reinventing the Battery’, the researchers have tweaked their cell’s internal structure; this makes it safer, more effective and longer-lasting than its traditionally crafted counterparts.

The most striking changes introduced by the startup (originated at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2012), are an ultra-thin metallic anode, and both a solid and liquid electrolyte. SolidEnergy Systems claim that their new battery is “anode-less”.

Instead, the anode has been considerably thinned in order to increase the transfer of lithium ions between the liquid electrolyte and the anode, while its new ionic metal make-up makes for a more rigorous transfer, compared to previous graphite or silicon-composite incarnations.

The changes to the recipe of the lithium-ion cell structure are said to improve cell-level density by up to 100%; whereas the new cells are non-flammable and therefore can be operated at extremities of temperature, which traditional batteries could not handle.

As with any widely heralded scientific innovation, any optimism should be tempered by caution; it is unclear whether the technology will hold up in mass production. Most pressingly, there are serious questions regarding the prototype’s ability to handle multiple charging cycles, which are yet to be adequately answered.

However, SolidEnergy’s positioning as a battery materials manufacturer is encouraging; since they can innovate with materials rather than manufacturing processes. The company has ensured that they are able to build new batteries using existing lithium-ion cell manufacturing equipment, without the need for bespoke machinery.

Moreover, offering advantages in a practical sense, such as costing and reproducing the cell production process; the ‘materials not manufacturing’ philosophy is indicative of an organisation which is willing to tear up the existing lithium-ion chemistry, in pursuit of a truly ground-breaking solution for the future.