This oxygen-ion battery could be the battery of the future

A team of researchers at UT Wein in Austria have developed an innovative oxygen-ion battery that is cleaner and safer than lithium-ion.
Christopher McFadden
A prototype of the battery at TU Wien
A prototype of the battery at TU Wien

TU Wien 

Researchers at Technische Universität Wien (TU Wien) in Vienna, Austria, have made an oxygen-ion battery that could be used in large energy storage systems instead of lithium-ion batteries. Even though the energy density of an oxygen-ion battery is not quite as high as that of a lithium-ion battery, it has some important advantages.

Unlike lithium-ion batteries, the storage capacity of the oxygen-ion battery does not decrease over time, as it can be regenerated. This could enable an extremely long service life for the battery. Oxygen-ion batteries can be produced without rare elements and are made of incombustible materials, which rules out fire accidents.

Even though these don't sound special, they could change how batteries are made in a good way for the environment. Existing batteries, like Li-on, need rare earth elements, which are very hard to mine and process without hurting the environment or people.

Ceramic materials were investigated for their suitability in making the oxygen-ion battery. The ceramic materials that TU Wien looked at can take in and let go of oxygen ions with two negative charges. When an electric voltage is applied, oxygen ions move from one ceramic material to another, creating an electric current. The basic idea is the same as that of a lithium-ion battery, but ceramic materials have several benefits.

One of the team members, Tobias Huber, said, "You can replace certain elements that are difficult to obtain with others relatively easily." Lanthanum, which is neither rare nor abundant, is still used in the battery prototype. However, research is already underway to replace even lanthanum with something less expensive. The oxygen-ion battery could be a great way to store large amounts of energy, such as renewable sources.

The oxygen-ion battery's potential longevity is its most significant advantage. In many batteries, the charge carriers can no longer move at some point. Then they can no longer be used to generate electricity, and the battery capacity decreases. After many charging cycles, this can become a severe problem. However, the oxygen-ion battery can be regenerated without any issues. If oxygen is lost due to side reactions, oxygen from the ambient air can compensate for the loss.

At present, oxygen-ion battery technology is not meant for smartphones or electric cars because it only has about a third of the energy density of lithium-ion batteries and works at temperatures between 200 and 400 °C. But the technology is exciting when storing energy, especially in large storage units that temporarily hold power from the Sun or wind.

"If you construct an entire building full of energy storage modules, the lower energy density and increased operating temperature do not play a decisive role. But the strengths of our battery would be significant there: the long service life, the possibility of producing large quantities of these materials without rare elements, and the fact that there is no fire hazard with these batteries," says Alexander Schmid from the Institute for Chemical Technologies and Analytics at TU Wien..

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