What is the Glass Battery?

On February 28, 2017, John Goodenough, a 97-year-old materials scientist, solid-state physicist and professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at the University of Texas at Austin (also widely-recognized for developing the lithium-ion battery), published a paper on an innovative battery concept. This groundbreaking technology was a glass battery, now affectionately referred to as the “Goodenough battery.” 

Using a glass electrolyte and an alkali-metal anode consisting of sodium, the glass battery was designed to be a superior replacement to the current lithium-ion batteries. Maria Helena Braga is the associate professor and head of the engineering physics department at the University of Porto in Portugal and has been one of Mr. Goodenough’s chief collaborators in the series of recent studies around the glass battery. Mr. Goodenough and Ms. Braga claim they have developed a non-flammable lithium battery (whose electrolyte was based on a glass powder) that has twice the energy density of traditional lithium-ion batteries.

How Does a Glass Battery Work?

Have you ever left a battery in a child’s toy too long? You have probably noticed “juice” coming out of the battery. That is because the separator in a battery, the electrolyte, is a juice. However, the glass battery is a lithium-metal battery. Batteries have three basic parts to them: an anode (-), a cathode (+) and the electrolyte. The separator (electrolyte) in most batteries is a juice, but the glass battery is entirely solid, making it less dangerous, providing less risk to catch fire.

Think back to recent news stories of cell phones catching fire or getting too hot or cold. With the glass battery, those will not be issues anymore because it is not made from a flammable liquid electrolyte. In addition to removing the flammable liquid electrolyte, the battery is expected to have an energy density many times higher than current lithium-ion batteries, as well as an operating temperature range down to −4 °F, which is much lower than current solid-state batteries.

The Glass Battery Lasts Longer

Aside from the possibility of catching fire, other complications with current lithium-ion batteries is that they do not provide many charging cycles, mainly due to the formation of a solid electrolyte interphase (SEI) layer. The SEI layer is caused by the breakdown of the liquid electrolyte inside of a lithium-ion battery. Glass batteries will not be prone to forming this layer. An SEI layer at the electrodes leads to capacity loss. Batteries send lithium-ions back and forth, but, eventually, they will not complete this action anymore. There is a limit to how many times you can charge/discharge a battery. However, the new glass battery provides more charging cycles and does not wear out. The glass battery will charge faster, which is great news for items like cellphones and electric cars. The inventors of the glass battery even claim it has a much shorter charging time – minutes rather than hours. The glass battery will even be cheaper because it is made from low-cost sodium instead of lithium. 

Local Benefits of the Glass Battery

In the future, replacing current lithium-ion batteries with glass batteries can positively impact local homes, appliances and the city of Frisco as a whole! If the technology works as expected, glass batteries will help balance the power grid by enabling increased storage capacity of renewable energy to compensate for times when it is not as sunny or windy.

A Cleaner Frisco

The glass battery has the potential to keep our entire planet a little cleaner, as well. Currently, we have a lead drain-off problem, even here in the prosperous Frisco area. Located near the rail district, a closed battery recycling company is waiting to be cleaned up. Exide Technologies and Frisco reached an agreement in 2012 outlining closure and cleanup of the plant where lead emissions were too high. Exide was to keep 93 acres it used for operations and Frisco would buy the 170 undeveloped acres that were used as a buffer. The City of Frisco and Excide have an amended plan for cleaning up this battery recycling company’s operating plant site and the nearby Stewart Creek, which has also been contaminated. The Stewart Creek cleanup involves getting rid of any stray battery chips, which could require dredging and removing contaminated sediment. City of Frisco consultants estimate the cleanup of Stewart Creek could take 12 to 18 months. Consultants estimate cleanup of the former operating plant could take another 18 to 24 months. 

Consequently, by phasing out highly toxic lithium-ion batteries that seep into and contaminate soil and lakes, with the new glass battery, we will all reap the benefits of living in a cleaner and less toxic environment.

The Future of the Glass Battery

As for the future of the glass battery, inventors claim it will be ready to be used in a commercial product in three years and are looking to license the battery technology. In just a few years, you might see big manufacturing companies publicizing a new high-capacity battery that is non-flammable, but time is yet to tell.

Lauren Greci is a former award-winning teacher and local freelance writer with a zeal for God, family, food and friends.

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