The transition to renewable energy resources has gotten fully underway and rechargeable battery tech is the key technology. Many countries are heavily investing in wind farming, solar farming, and even wave farming as they attempt to decrease their reliance on more traditional energy sources like fossil fuels. One renewable option that is quickly gaining popularity in the sustainability movement is the use of rechargeable cell technologies for energy storage.
The most common form of rechargeable cells currently being leveraged by enterprises across a variety of industries is lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries. Although lithium-ion batteries have become the standard for rechargeable cells, their use in creating a greener future is questionable at best. The cobalt and lithium necessary for Li-ion batteries are expensive and rare, offer low reliability and high volatility.
Because of these concerns, alternative options for a reversible reduction battery have already been proposed, with sodium and magnesium being among the most notable options. Unfortunately, none of these proposed alternatives offer better performance or characteristics that would make it worth using over Li-ion batteries. This was the case until recently, when researchers found the use of oxygen, which uses the same charge-discharge mechanism as lithium-ion, to be a promising substitute.
Oxygen-ion batteries work in relatively the same fashion as Li-ion batteries, with simply just the lithium being substituted with oxygen. One of the main differences however, is that with the new oxygen-ion batteries, the surfaces used to create an electrical current are made of ceramic, which are much less detrimental to the earth environmentally.
The prominent distinguishing factor between the two types of batteries is the density and longevity of oxygen-ion batteries. The Austrian researchers who developed the oxygen-ion battery found that it measured at an energy density 140 milliwatt-hours per cubic centimeter, which is only about 30 percent of lithium-ion. However, the researchers also confirmed that the oxygen-ion battery was still working after 1,000 charge cycles, with the potential to last even longer.
This is a monumental find, as capacity loss in Li-ion cells is one of the top problems with the technology, often due to ions being diverted by side reactions and parasitic current. The same would happen in oxygen-ion systems, but there’s plenty of oxygen in the air, which makes it possible to refresh these batteries with atmospheric oxygen to replace the lost ions.
The benefits of the new oxygen-ion batteries don’t stop at an enhanced longevity. Oxygen-ion batteries also have promise as part of a green energy grid because it would be less delicate than lithium-ion cells. The research team says that the new rechargeable battery can operate normally at 200-400 degrees Celsius, as well as that the solid electrolyte inside is non-flammable, making it ideal for use in power generating and storage facilities.
Oxygen-ion batteries also offer the potential to reduce costs thanks to the more common raw materials needed. The iron, calcium, and chromium they need are all more plentiful and stable than lithium and cobalt, making the production and maintenance of oxygen-ion batteries cheaper and easier.
Oxygen-ion batteries might represent a new phase for energy storage, one where a future based on renewable energy resources is achievable. Though the technology is certainly young, the potential it holds for a new rechargeable battery will keep researchers busy for some time, as they look to unlock the full capabilities of oxygen-ion batteries.