Partnership research on the lithium metal battery
Steen Schougaard’s team is starting a project to improve what could become the rechargeable battery of the future.
Chemistry Department professor Steen Schougaard and his team took part in a first official working meeting with their Blue Solutions Canada partners on September 27 at the Pierre-Dansereau Science Complex. Their common project: to improve the metallic lithium battery, a solution for the future for the electrification of transport. Blue Solutions Canada is providing financial support, along with that of the InnovÉE group and the NSERC Alliance, for a total amount of nearly $900,000.
An alternative to lithium-ion batteries
The electrification of transport is one of the preferred ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the next few years. This energy transition requires technological developments, particularly in the area of rechargeable batteries, a rapidly expanding field in Quebec.
A whole industrial ecosystem has developed around lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles. However, these batteries have serious drawbacks: the use of a liquid electrolyte – the conductor ensuring the good circulation of lithium ions from one electrode to the other of the battery – which is flammable, as well as critical mineral requirements , such as cobalt and nickel, whose global reserves will not be enough to power all future electric vehicles on the planet.
The manufacturers of the batteries of tomorrow will have to turn to other solutions, and one of them is the use of a solid electrolyte, hence the name all-solid battery or lithium metal battery. “The first lithium metal batteries were developed in the 1970s by British chemist Stanley Whittingam, says Steen Schougaard, a lithium battery and energy storage specialist, who is also director of the Department of Chemistry. The problem, which had been noticed quickly, is that metallic lithium tends to produce dendrites, small metallic wires which push through the separator between the cathode and the anode and which can generate short circuits, and therefore a fire hazard. We could not therefore use metallic lithium before having solved this problem.”
At the same time, researchers such as the Japanese chemist Akira Yoshino and the American physicist John Goodenough developed and then perfected the rechargeable lithium-ion battery, work in which Stanley Whittingam also participated. “It won them the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2019,” recalls Steen Schougaard, who was lucky enough to be trained by Professor Goodenough.
Since the gains in power and energy storage capacity of an all-solid battery would in theory supplant those of the lithium-ion battery, specialists have never stopped looking for a way to neutralize these annoying dendrites. “Blue Solutions has achieved this, but the temperature of the batteries must be maintained between 50 and 100 degrees Celsius, which means keeping them plugged in if the vehicle is not driving,” notes Steen Schougaard.
Located in Boucherville, Blue Solutions Canada is a subsidiary of the French group Bolloré, which piloted the Autolib car-sharing service from 2011 to 2018 in the Paris area, offering its battery-equipped Bluecar electric cars to metallic lithium. “This is the ideal technology for a car-sharing system, because these are vehicles that are running or plugged in at all times, maintaining the temperature to preserve the proper functioning of the battery,” explains the professor.
Lower operating temperature thresholds
The company now wants to tackle the challenge of lowering the operating temperature thresholds for its battery. “At first, we will aim for a temperature around 20 degrees Celsius, and then tackle the constraints of our Canadian winter temperatures,” says the researcher.