A new lithium metal battery has been developed that could power drones, mobile phones, wearable technology and even electric cars for double the current limit.
SolidEnergy Systems has developed a rechargeable ‘anode-free’ lithium metal battery that it says offers double the energy capacity of standard batteries used to power many consumer devices.
Qichao Hu co-invented the battery at MIT before going on to become SolidEnergy Systems’ CEO.
Working in the group of MIT professor Donald Sadoway, a well-known battery researcher who has developed several molten salt and liquid metal batteries during his time at the institute, Hu helped make several key design and material advancements in lithium metal batteries, which became the foundation of SolidEnergy’s technology.
One innovation was using an ultra-thin lithium metal foil for the anode, which is about one-fifth the thickness of a traditional lithium metal anode and several times thinner and lighter than traditional graphite, carbon or silicon anodes.
This shrunk the battery size by half but left the battery particularly volatile. By then making chemical modifications to the electrolyte, the outcome was a battery with the energy capacity benefits of lithium metal batteries but with the safety and longevity features of lithium ion batteries.
Whilst at MIT, Hu formed a team to develop a business plan around the new battery, going on to win first prize at the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition’s Accelerator Contest, and become a finalist at the MIT Clean Energy Prize. The team went on to represent MIT at the US Clean Energy Prize competition, held at the White House, where they placed second.
SolidEnergy Systems is now looking to commercialise its product, starting by bringing the battery into the drone market this coming November.
“Several customers are using drones and balloons to provide free Internet to the developing world, and to survey for disaster relief,” said Hu. “It’s a very exciting and noble application.”
Hu says the next stage will be to launch for smartphones and wearables early next year, followed by electric cars in 2018. He believes that bringing these batteries into the electric vehicle market could move the sector forward leaps and bounds.
“Industry standard is that electric vehicles need to go at least 200 miles on a single charge. We can make the battery half the size and half the weight, and it will travel the same distance, or we can make it the same size and same weight, and now it will go 400 miles on a single charge,” he said.