Aluminium air battery might surpass the classical lithium-ion

When we talk about battery advancements, lithium-ion batteries are neither hated nor loved. If look at Li-ion breakthroughs in both construction and design, they are responsible for several things such as new installations, the Tesla Model S, research for green energy and of course, the modern smartphone. The ‘œhate’ part is based on Li-ion’s limitations, the main reason of the EVs short range, the Model S’s high price and why the smartphones do not last very long.

Li-ion has a limited long term utility and this is why the news from Fuji Pigment seems so fascinating. Fuji Pigment believes that their aluminium-air batteries will replace Li-ion ones. They promise that the batteries will last for up to two weeks and are refilled with normal water.

How does this new battery work exactly?

The battery technology problem was never the question if we are able to built better ones, because we can. Right now we are able to make a kind of battery which might be able to over-shadow Li-ion ones.

Some of the highest densities we could ever build are these batteries: the ‘œMetal-Air’ which include aluminum-air, lithium-air and zinc-air. The problem with aluminum-air was that it showed a fast paced anode degradations, especially in the earlier models where they released hydrogen gas.

Although Ryohei Mori’s work is the main reference in Fuji Pigment’s announcement, the papers are not available for free, but you are able to see their abstracts. His studies were concentrated on the Al-air’s performance and at the same time on the extension of its lifetime. The issue is that Al-air solutions degrade after the first charging cycle, and according to Mori’s research, creating a secondary al-air battery will buffer the accumulation byproducts, main reason why the batteries do not work for longer terms.

The thing which needs some more details would be the Al-air battery’s ability to recharge. The batteries can recharge using the conventional means because they are primary cells. By contacting oxygen, the aluminum anode is consumed, this is how the byproduct hydrated aluminum is formed. This material is recyclable and used to make new aluminum anode, this gives the batteries the rechargeable property. Still, after some period of time you will have to replace the aluminum anode, though Fuji Pigment did not make it clear how often.

Will Al-air become the new big topic?

Within the next 2 or 5 years, it is possible that a new Al-air battery technology will become functional. Many manufacturers are already working on how to commercialize designs, and seeing as how there is plenty of aluminum, this material is relatively cheap. There might some information regarding the properties which can help create some additional capacity, seeing as how the military has used Al-air batteries in some specialized applications.

There is also the issue with how the produced solution will be recycled due to the fact that it is not clear if water will be as efficient as an aqueous solution as saltwater. The final product price is, for now at least, unknown, but there has been an estimation of approximately $1.1 per kg of aluminum anode.

Fuji Pigment plans to sell the technology starting with this year, and by 2016 we should expect some demonstrations or proof of concepts. It remains to be seen if auto manufacturers will embrace this new technology as car companies are conservative and Tesla already assured the further use of Li-ion technology.