Harvard Researchers Make Solid-State Battery Breakthrough

Harvard University researchers have developed a potential breakthrough with solid-state battery construction that could make them as durable as lithium-ion batteries. (Volvo Car USA)

Lightweight, stable, and fast-charging, solid-state batteries have long been considered the missing link for fully scalable electric vehicle adoption. However, prolonged charging and recharging of a solid-state battery rapidly deteriorates it, rendering it useless for automotive applications.

Researchers at Harvard now believe they’ve developed a solid-state battery solution. Their findings, published in Nature, indicate that their system allows for successful charging and recharging up to 10,000 times. With numbers like this, an electric vehicle could drive for 10 to 15 years without needing a new battery, putting solid-state technology on similar footing with lithium-ion technology.

The Harvard team created a new solid-state battery architecture to prevent the chemical reaction responsible for degradation. During traditional solid-state battery charging, lithium ions travel from the cathode (the positive terminal) to the anode (the negative terminal), causing fine, needle-like formations, called dendrites, to form on the surface. Over time, these sharp dendrites can penetrate the system, causing them to break or even ignite.

To prevent this, the researchers developed a layering system that prevents this interaction and the formation of the dendrites. By strategically sandwiching the materials of varying stabilities and adding a graphite coating to the anode, the system creates a barrier around the dendrites, preventing penetration.

According to Xin Li, associate professor of materials science at Harvard’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS), this could be a game-changer for the battery industry. “This proof-of-concept design shows that lithium-metal solid-state batteries could be competitive with commercial lithium-ion batteries,” said Li. “And the flexibility and versatility of our multilayer design makes it potentially compatible with mass production procedures in the battery industry. Scaling it up to the commercial battery won’t be easy, and there are still some practical challenges, but we believe they will be overcome.”

The long-term implications of this breakthrough are staggering for the automotive industry. Automakers from Acura to Volvo have all announced plans for fully electrified fleets in the coming decades, which will require large-scale, affordable battery production. BMW and Ford have already invested over $140 million in solid-state company Solid Power. Meanwhile, General Motors is developing its own lithium metal solution, and Mercedes-Benz is already using some solid-state cells in its electric buses.

While Harvard’s research is not currently attached to any automaker, there will surely be plenty of interest as Li’s team perfects its design.

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