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IBM Almaden Lab Exploring Lithium-Air Batteries for Next-Generation Energy Storage

General schematic of a lithium-air battery. Adapted from Ogasawara et al. Click to enlarge.

Leveraging expertise in materials science, nanotechnology, green chemistry and supercomputing, scientists at IBM Research’s Almaden lab in San Jose, California, are undertaking a multi-year research initiative around a grid-scale, efficient, affordable electrical energy storage network. The team plans to explore rechargeable Lithium-Air systems, which could offer 10 times the energy capacity of lithium-ion systems.

IBM intends to partner with industry leaders, academia and others in this collaborative endeavor. The company would license any intellectual property that may result from this research rather than manufacturing battery cells.

Lithium-ion rechargeable (secondary) batteries are based on a pair of intercalation electrodes. On charging, lithium ions move from the cathode through the electrolyte and insert into the anode; discharging reverses the process. One major element in the efforts to improve the capacity and performance of lithium-ion batteries is a focus on the design and synthesis of new intercalation electrode materials and their optimized manufacturing. Other elements include work on electrolytes, separators and cell design and assembly.

Properties of metals used in metal air batteries
Ah/gTheor. VTheor. kWh/kg
Li 3.86 3.4 13.0
Ca 1.34 3.4 4.6
Mg 2.20 3.1 6.8
Al 2.98 2.7 8.1
Zn 0.82 1.6 1.3
Fe 0.96 1.3 1.2
From Dobley et al.

Lithium-air batteries dispense with the intercalation cathode, instead using a catalytic air cathode in combination with an electrolyte and a lithium anode. Oxygen from the air is the active material for the cathode and is reduced at the cathode surface—the lithium reacts directly with the oxygen. Theoretically, with oxygen as essentially an unlimited cathode reactant source, the capacity of the battery is limited only by the lithium anode. The theoretical specific energy of the Li-air cell is 13.0 kWh/kg—the highest of any metal-air battery system.

In addition to this very high energy density, the Li-air battery offers a flat discharge profile and long storage life, and is more environmentally friendly than some Li-ion systems.

Original lithium-air batteries—aqueous batteries, or with an aqueous electrolyte/air interface—were primary cells—i.e., not rechargeable. However, researchers have developed and continue to refine non-aqueous electrolyte rechargeable Li-air systems (earlier post).

There are numerous challenges for the non-aqueous rechargeable Li-air systems, such as low rates of oxygen diffusion in the porous air cathode and the accumulation of solid reaction products on the electrode, which blocks the contact between electrolyte and air. As with Li-ion batteries, there are many factors controlling the performance of a lithium-air battery, including cathode structure, anode morphology, electrolyte composition and cell assembly.

IBM’s focus on exploring battery technologies stems from IBM’s Big Green Innovations initiative. Announced in November 2006, as part of IBM’s investment in 10 new businesses generated by InnovationJam, Big Green Innovations has concentrated its efforts on water management, alternative energy and carbon management.

Almaden Institute. IBM Research will explore the next frontier of electrical energy storage and advanced battery systems at its annual Almaden Institute in San Jose, California, 26-27 August. The goal of the 2009 Almaden Institute is to catalyze long-term, concerted efforts to create next-generation rechargeable batteries capable of storing ten times more energy than today’s most powerful Lithium-ion batteries. Speakers include Nobel Laureate and energy expert Burton Richter; Marc Tarpenning, co-founder of Tesla Motors; and Deborah Gordon, co-author of 2 Billion Cars.

Previous Almaden Institutes have launched major research projects in cognitive computing, service science and healthcare informatics.




Excellent. Al-air used to be the highest kWh/kg. 13.0 is an impressive number if the theory holds.


Air batteries and supercapacitors would be a very high performance and lightweight solution.

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When this technology matures it seem no more cost items shall stand other than payback, secure travel and time. Lets forget about fuel charge. Not mimics eden of travelling at all but hopeful.


So the 16 kWh that is stored in the GM Volt battery pack which weighs 160 kg, could be stored in just 1.2 kg of LiAir cells!


A generation away, this Li-Air battery chemistry, if proved possible, would expand the scope of many elctrical powered vehicles. The Oil Sheiks abd Oil Commissars can see the end of their monopolistic cartels.

For the first time EREVS could be used and applicable for D+ cars, SUVs, and for even medium duty trucks. Small BEVs might become genuinely possible and acceptable to a mass audience.

Such a technology would change even more the profile of autos available to the general public. Pregnant roller skates and unsafe abominations like A-segment and even small B-segment compromises would likely go the way of the Dodo. I can forsee the C-segment and larger vehicles, the choice of millions in and relatively low priced fuel environment becoming the choice of most publics around the World. The EU would likely undergo a complete upsizing of its vehicles over time. EU citizens don't drive the and B-segment cars because they want to; they are forced by taxes and economics to do so.


IBM Research’s Almaden lab in San Jose, California pioneered nano technology for computers for years. If anyone can make this work, they have a good shot.

I look at these as potential energy batteries and not power batteries. PHEVs and BEVs will require power to accelerate cars. Unless you combine them with super capacitors or power batteries they might not be up to the task.

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