Aluminum-ion batteries: Are they the post-lithium power option?N. Mughees | November 21, 2023
There have been many interesting developments in the field of battery technology, which is helping in the search for greener and more efficient energy solutions. Lithium (Li)-ion batteries, with their high energy density and extended cycle life, are among the popular energy storage systems available today. However, the desire for sustainable and green energy is at odds with the availability of Li (which makes up just 0.0065% weight of the Earth's crust), as well as its flammability, toxicity and the volatility of the electrolytes it employs. The aluminum (Al)-ion battery is one such post-Li technology emerging because of its potential to change the way energy is stored. Frost Sullivan’s TechVision Division in 2017 mentioned for the first time the Al-ion battery as a possible option to replace Li-ion batteries.
Why is Al a promising battery candidate?
Al-ion batteries with proper cathodes have a high theoretical capacity due to multivalent ions transfer of Al3+. Al anodes can have a specific volumetric capacity of up to 8,046 mAh/cm3, making them roughly four times more capacious than Li batteries. Al is cheap relative to Li and is one of the most plentiful elements, comprising about 8% weight of the Earth's crust. Its greater air stability over that of Li reduces any possible safety risks and makes it easier to handle in a natural setting. In addition, the ionic liquid electrolyte used in Al batteries poses less of a fire hazard because it is not combustible or explosive. High electrical conductivity and cheap cost are both advantages of using graphitic carbon material as a cathode, where Al ions can be intercalated.
What makes up an Al-ion battery?
A negative electrode made up of a pure Al metal is required to make use of the high theoretical energy density of an Al-ion battery (13.36 Wh/cm3, which is 1.6 times greater than gasoline’s 8.6 Wh/cm3). This requires an electrolyte that is stable within the electrochemical stability window. Most of the problems associated with the drawbacks of liquid electrolytes that are very corrosive or unstable might be avoided with the use of a solid electrolyte. Finding a positive electrode is the last step since it allows for high energy densities, voltages and capacities.
Ion conduction is crucial to both the solid electrolyte and positive electrode and whether a substance is utilized as a solid electrolyte, which is an electronic insulator, or a positive electrode, which is an electronic conductor, depends on its ability to conduct electrons or ions. It's worth noting that a material that is normally an electrical insulator can be converted into a positive electrode by adding conductive elements like graphite or black carbon. Similarly, doping an electrical conductor with impurities can reduce its conductivity, and redox reactions can occur at constituent elements.
Researchers have identified potential cathode materials, such as polyanionic compounds and transition metal oxides, that exhibit promising Al-ion storage capabilities. These materials undergo reversible electrochemical reactions, enhancing the battery's stability and performance. Furthermore, studies on the design of advanced electrolytes have led to improvements in the Al-ion battery's overall efficiency and cyclability. Ionic liquids and polymer electrolytes are being explored to mitigate the challenges associated with Al-ion migration and enhance the battery's overall electrochemical performance.
Charging and discharging of Al-ion battery
The charge and discharge process of this battery consists of Al3+ moving between the positive and negative electrodes and the cooperative intercalation and deintercalation of ion clusters in electrolyte. Let’s consider a graphite positive electrode incorporating an AlxCly compound. Specifically, the following oxidation-reduction processes are occurring:
Al3+ + 3e- → Al (negative electrode)
AlxCly - e- → Al3+ + [AlaClb]- (positive electrode)
Al - 3e- → Al3+ (negative electrode)
Al3+ + [AlaClb]- + e- → AlxCly (positive electrode)
When compared to Li batteries, Al single element has a higher potential energy density since it releases up to three electrons at once during the oxidation reaction.
Although the development of Al-ion batteries has promising prospects, there are still significant technological challenges to overcome, including:
- The working voltage is significantly lower than that of a Li-ion battery.
- The ionic electrolyte's sensitivity to humidity leads to issues including difficult synthesis environments and difficult storage requirements.
- The battery's metal casing readily corrodes due to the mildly acidic chemical characteristics.
Al-ion batteries represent a promising frontier in energy storage technology. It's gaining traction fast, and for good reason. The low redox potential of Al3+/Al+ and the high charge storage capacity of Al make these batteries an attractive electrochemical energy storage technology. These are considered compelling electrochemical energy storage systems because of the natural abundance of Al, its high charge storage capacity and the sufficiently low redox potential of Al3+/Al. With its impressive energy storage capability, low cost and environmentally friendly features, it's catching the attention of researchers, engineers and green tech enthusiasts alike. As the world continues to prioritize sustainability and efficiency, the journey toward harnessing the maximum potential of Al-ion batteries is poised to make a significant impact on our energy future.