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AA, AAA — What’s next?

A View From the Edge

If you’re old enough, you will remember flashlight D or C batteries that would leak after a while. The acid would eat through the casing. Later on, when small penlight, size AA, batteries came along, if you liked your Walkman, you checked them often in case they were leaking, eating through connections and even the plastic case. All these batteries were acid batteries until alkaline batteries came along that lasted twice as long and carried more of a charge.

However they can pose a health risk as they leak potassium hydroxide, a substance that can cause serious eye damage and respiratory and skin irritation.

Many alkaline batteries can be recharged. You bought them for your power drill and camera batteries. And then along came lithium batteries which carry six times the wattage capacity and can last up to six times longer than alkaline batteries. Your new power drill, electric garden equipment are lighter and last longer with lithium-ion batteries.

The problem is, lithium is a rare earth material and even with lithium batteries being six times longer-lasting than alkaline batteries, they are still way too heavy and not so enviro-friendly to allow your electric car to go much further than a few hundred miles on a charge. Your car could go much farther and that electric chainsaw work much longer, but both would be much heavier needing to carry more and more batteries. A Tesla’s battery pack, made up of hundreds of AA batteries, weighs almost a ton and can only be recharged about 500 times.

Now, what if that same powerful battery only weighed a quarter of that? Your whole Tesla car would weigh half as much, travel 1,000 miles on a full charge…and electric air travel becomes feasible for planes carrying 100 people up to 900 miles. That’s La Guardia Airport to Atlanta. This new battery design is called a lithium-air battery. Larry Curtiss of the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s Argonne National Lab, “the lithium-air battery has the highest projected energy density of any battery technology being considered for the next generation of batteries beyond lithium-ion.” How much density? “1KWh/kg,” and is based on a solid ceramic electrolyte core which increases the energy density and recharge cycle lifetime to above 2,000 times.

Developed by the Illinois Institute of Technology and the Argonne National Lab, this new design of future batteries consists of a lithium metal anode, an air-based cathode, and a solid ceramic polymer electrolyte. And the electrolyte is made from relatively inexpensive elements but in nanoparticle form (that’s the secret process). This solid material enables chemical reactions that produce lithium oxide on discharge, which involves four or more electrons, twice as many as the best lithium superoxide batteries. More electrons means higher energy density.

And this new battery does this at room temperature, never overheating, safe for road, air, and home use.


Peter Riva, a former resident of Amenia Union, now lives in New Mexico.

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