MIT battery gobbles up carbon emissions

A new type of lithium-based battery being developed by researchers at MIT could be made partly from carbon dioxide captured from power plants, preventing the greenhouse gas from ever making it to the atmosphere.

The new battery could make an important contribution in the battle against climate change by reducing the amount of carbon dioxide emitted to the atmosphere. Not by serving as a non-fossil power source, but by running on carbon dioxide itself.

Made from lithium metal, carbon and an electrolyte designed by the researchers, the new battery works by continuously converting carbon dioxide into a solid mineral carbonate as it discharges. The source of the carbon dioxide: power plants equipped with carbon capture systems.

According to MIT, carbon capture systems are very inefficient as they can use up to 30 per cent of the electricity they generate just to power the capture, release and storage of carbon dioxide. Coming up with a product that can use the stored carbon dioxide “could significantly change the economics of such systems”.

This is where the MIT battery comes into play. The captured gas could be put to use to make carbon-dioxide-loaded electrolytes – one of the three essential parts of a battery – and then used during the discharge of the battery to provide a power output.

A series of experiments have shown that the MIT approach works and can produce a lithium-carbon dioxide battery with voltage and capacity that are competitive with that of state-of-the-art lithium-gas batteries.

For now at least, the system is still in early-stage research and far from commercial deployment. For example, the cycle life of the battery is limited to 10-discharge cycles. “Lithium-carbon dioxide batteries are years away” as a viable product, assistant professor of mechanical engineering Betar Gallant said.

But the concept offers great potential, particular as carbon capture is considered by many to be essential to meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Image credit: Razor512 via Flickr

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