Monday, February 25, 2008

New materials may yield safer, more power-efficient battery power

Posted by John Keller

If there's anything that military forces can never get enough of it's electrical power. Radios, night-vision goggles, wearable computers, and rugged PDAs are heavy enough to carry into the field, but today's fighting forces have to lug along enough batteries to keep their portable electronics running. Lives can depend on reliable batteries.

It's a never-ending challenge to design batteries that have enough juice for the missions at hand, but that don't break the soldier's back in practical use. One of the latest and most promising developments in battery technology is the lithium-ion (Li-ion) cell. There is a lot of power in one of these batteries.

One problem with Li-ion batteries, however, is safety. Overcharging these batteries can convert the lithium oxide to metallic lithium, which raises the danger of overheating, or even explosion. I think most soldiers would agree, the battlefield is dangerous enough without this threat.

Now researchers in Spain and the United Kingdom are developing an electrode material that could ease concerns about exploding Li-ion batteries, and increase the power storage capacity of these batteries, as well, reports in a story entitled New electrodes may provide safer, more powerful lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries. Reports

In the new study, M. Rosa PalacĂ­n and colleagues compared the performance of Li-ion batteries made with electrodes composed of lithium nickel nitride (LiNiN) to conventional Li-ion batteries containing carbon electrodes. The new materials are more efficient than the conventional electrodes and less likely to overheat, the researchers suggest. They note that “further improvements can be envisaged by changing the reaction conditions and the processing of the electrode.”

The Palacin paper, entitled Towards New Negative Electrode Materials for Li-Ion Batteries: Electrochemical properties of LiNiN, is available in .pdf form for those who want to do a deep dive.

Anything that could help lighten the load will be good news to combat troops in the field. Perhaps these new batteries may become available to them before more exotic technologies that might be able to do things like generate electrical power from body heat.

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