Better Electrolytes for Better Batteries

I’ve written here a number of times about the quest to develop new battery technology, most recently about the further development of sodium ion battery technology.  There are many possible combinations of electrode materials, physical design, and electrolyte chemistry to be explored.

According to an article at Technology Review, a start-up company in Colorado, Boulder Ionics, claims to have developed a new process for manufacturing special ionic liquid electrolytes that would enable higher-performance batteries.

The electrolyte, made from ionic liquids—salts that are molten below 100 ⁰C—can operate at high voltages and temperatures, isn’t flammable, and doesn’t evaporate. Ionic liquids are normally expensive to produce, but Boulder Ionics is developing a cheaper manufacturing process.

These ionic liquids are normally produced in batches, but the company says that it has developed a continuous process that requires less time and simpler equipment to produce the electrolytes.   It also says that its process is safer (the synthesis of ionic liquids can involve highly exothermic reactions), and produces a higher purity product.  These liquids, by the way, are not exactly household names; they are fairly complex organic salts; for example:

Iolyte-P1 is an ultra-high-purity grade of 1-ethyl-3-methylimidazolium bis(trifluoromethylsulfonyl)imide (CAS #174899-82-2)

In theory, the use of these ionic liquid electrolytes could allow substantial improvement in the storage capacity of existing battery types, such as the lithium ion batteries used in all our portable gadgets and in electric vehicles.  They could also ease the development of metal-air batteries (such as lithium-air batteries), because the ionic liquids will not evaporate.

As in all these early-stage developments, there are unanswered questions about how well the technology can be implemented on an industrial scale.  The majority of these ideas will probably turn out to be duds; if one or two work out, though, the payoff could be large.

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