Researchers Hope to Improve Rechargeable Batteries with Fluorine

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The age of hand-held consumer electronics was pretty much ushered in by the introduction of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. Alkaline, NiCad, and NiMH batteries were adequate, but the energy density and long life Li-Ion technology brought to the table were the game-changers. Now, researchers in St. Louis and Japan are looking to change the game once again. They are hoping to do so with a chemical element known as fluorine.

They still have significant hurdles to overcome, but the researchers are optimistic. They hope to be able to produce a better battery within a few years. Their success will mean big things for consumer electronics, electric vehicles, and so much more.

  1. Lithium: Powerful But Limited

It is safe to say that the development of the lithium-ion battery made an enormous difference in how we power our devices. Today, consumers can buy USB rechargeable batteries from Salt Lake City-based Pale Blue Earth, batteries that can be recharged 1,000 times or more. That is pretty amazing. Even better, lithium-ion batteries boast a higher energy density. That makes them lighter and more powerful than alkaline batteries.

So what’s the problem? According to Pale Blue Earth, access to lithium is limited. As powerful as it is, lithium is in short supply and rather difficult to mine. Making matters worse is the fact that mining is harmful to the environment. If we can take lithium out of the equation and still have powerful rechargeable batteries, we would be in business.

That is exactly what researchers at Washington University’s McKelvey School of Engineering are working on. They believe fluorine, an abundant and comparatively light element, could eventually become a substitute for lithium in rechargeable batteries. Incidentally, Japanese researchers are already testing fluoride-ion batteries in electric vehicles.

  1. Fluorine: Powerful But Poor Cyclability

Fluorine is just as powerful as lithium for producing electrical currents. It is an interesting choice in that fluorine is the complete opposite of lithium in terms of how it does what it does. Nonetheless, it is a reasonable replacement for future rechargeable batteries. There is just one problem – fluorine demonstrates poor cyclability.

In simple terms, cyclability is the capacity to continue performing despite numerous charge-discharge cycles. Fluorine-ion batteries don’t do so well. They degrade more quickly with every cycle. As such, they do not last nearly as long as lithium-ion batteries. Researchers in the U.S. and Japan are seeking to change that.

They will have to if fluorine is ever to become a replacement for lithium. Consumers will not stand for batteries that degrade so quickly as to make them prohibitively expensive. They want batteries that pack both high power and long life in a single unit.

  1. Fluorine’s Potential Is Obvious

You might be wondering if it is worth the time and effort to solve fluorine’s cyclability problem. It is. According to the Japanese researchers, their fluorine-ion batteries could potentially power an electric vehicle for more than six hundred miles on a single charge. No one has even come close to that range with a lithium-ion battery.

Boosting battery range so significantly could solve one of the major problems now inhibiting the sale of electric vehicles in the U.S. Most cars can barely crack the 400-mile mark on a single tank of gas. Get to six hundred miles with an EV and you suddenly make the cars attractive to a much wider audience.

Lithium-ion batteries are expected to dominate the rechargeable battery landscape for some time. Yet their dominance may not last forever. If researchers have their way, fluorine will eventually replace lithium-ion battery manufacturing. That will be better for manufacturers, consumers, and the environment.