Potassium-ion batteries could be made safer


Monday, 03 February, 2020


Potassium-ion batteries could be made safer

Scientists from the University of Wollongong (UOW) have developed a nonflammable electrolyte for potassium and potassium-ion batteries, for applications in next-generation energy-storage systems beyond lithium technology. Writing in the journal Angewandte Chemie, the scientists said the novel electrolyte makes the batteries safer and also allows for operation at reduced concentrations, which is a necessary condition for large-scale applications.

Lithium-ion technology still dominates energy-storage applications, but it has intrinsic disadvantages — among which are the price, environmental issues and the flammability of the electrolyte. Therefore, scientists are replacing the lithium ion in next-generation technologies with more abundant and much cheaper ions, such as the potassium ion. However, potassium and potassium-ion batteries also face safety issues, and nonflammable electrolytes are not yet available for them.

Materials scientist Zaiping Guo and her team have now found a solution to this problem, having developed an electrolyte based on a flame-retardant material and adapted it for use in potassium batteries. Besides providing nonflammability, it could be operated in batteries at concentrations that are suitable for large-scale applications

The team’s novel electrolyte contains triethyl phosphate as the sole component of the solvent. It has been tested in lithium-ion batteries, but only very high concentrations provided enough stability for long-term operation — too high for industrial applications. The battery industry demands dilute electrolytes, which are cheaper and ensure better performances.

By using potassium ions, however, the concentrations could be reduced, the authors reported. They combined the phosphate solvent with a commonly available potassium salt and obtained an electrolyte that did not burn and allowed stable cycling of the assembled battery concentrations of 0.9 to 2 mol/L, which are concentrations that are suitable for larger scales; for example, in smart-grid applications.

Key to that performance was the formation of a uniform and stable solid–electrolyte interphase layer, according to the authors. They observed this layer, which ensures operability of the electrodes, only with the phosphate electrolyte. Conventional carbonate-based electrolytes were unable to build up this layer. The authors also reported high cycling stability, whereas under the same conditions, the conventional carbonate-based electrolyte decomposed.

Guo and her team have thus demonstrated that next-generation potassium-ion batteries can be made safe by using a novel inorganic, phosphate-based electrolyte. They suggest that electrolytes based on flame retardants can be developed further and could be used for the design of other nonflammable battery systems.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/Aleksander

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