An LSU professor is in the process of designing a new battery to replace traditional lithium-ion batteries and has caught NASA’s attention.
LSU professor Ying “Jane” Wang is working on creating a non-metal, rechargeable battery as an alternative to avoid the dangers associated with traditional lithium-ion batteries.
“Lithium is very expensive, it’s explosive and the mining of lithium causes lots of environmental issues and safety concerns,” Professor Wang said.
A battery is comprised of three electrodes: positive and negative electrodes with an electrolyte in between. The electrolyte is a solution inside a battery that transfers ions, charge-carrying particles, between the positive and negative electrodes.
The type of charge carriers found in electrolytes make Yang’s battery more sustainable than traditional ones. The charge carriers help determine the chemistry and performance of the battery.
“Instead of using lithium as the charge carrier in the electrolytes, we use an ammonium ion as the charge carrier,” Wang said. “Ammonium is composed of one nitrogen that is surrounded by four hydrogen atoms.”
Because hydrogen and nitrogen atoms are both found in nature, the non-metal battery is more sustainable than lithium batteries. This also makes Yang’s battery biodegradable.
“This kind of battery is much lighter and you can use the biodegradable, or natural, polymers as the electrodes,” Wang said. “So once the battery is used, you can just put it into the environment because it’s degradable, and that’s all made possible by using the ammonium ion charge carriers.”
Wang said NASA is interested in potentially using her design in space once the batteries become more developed, so NASA is helping fund her research.
“I think this battery technology is particularly very useful to NASA or space relevant applications because safety is the most critical factor in space exploration,” Wang said.
“Majority of the batteries they use are still lithium batteries, which cause a lot of safety concerns because the electrolytes can be toxic and easily catch fire,” she added.
Yang wants her technology to eventually be commercialized. Right now, she’s focused on solving some of the issues around performance and energy capacity.
“It’s not on the market yet. It’s still a little bit far from that stage,” Wang said. “I’m hoping to solve some of the problems with this battery — improving the capacity, the lifetimes, the ability, the energy and the power of this kind of battery.”
Wang’s ultimate goal is to create a safer and more environmentally-friendly battery.
“I want to replace the common polymer electrodes with biodegradable polymer electrodes. I want to put safer, greener materials in the battery,” she said.
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