U of T Engineering researchers collaborate to develop post lithium-ion batteries made of aluminum

Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries are a popular energy storage format for both the portable electronics and electric vehicle markets, putting them at the heart of billions of devices people rely on every day. However, the rising demand for rechargeable energy storage systems, and market-driven increases in raw critical materials including lithium, cobalt, and nickel result in production bottlenecks and price increases for Li-ion batteries over the next few decades. To address the sustainability challenges associated with Li-ion batteries, researcher in academia and industry have begun to investigate alternative battery technologies made of more earth abundant and cost effective materials. In response, Professor Gisele Azimi’s lab has been focused on developing efficient aluminum (Al)-ion batteries as an alternative to Li-ion. Senior Research Associate Dr. Monu Malik, former PhD student Dr. Kok Long Ng, Tony Dong, Yijia Wang, and current PhD students Andrew Grindal, Jocelyn Riet, and Brohath Amrithraj have been focused on this research thrust. The group has developed a novel electrolyte chemistry that, in combination with aluminum anode and graphitic cathode, delivers comparable battery performance to Li-ion batteries. Currently, the group is focused on developing performant cathode materials that can deliver significantly higher specific capacities than graphite, which can result in Al-ion batteries with 10-fold higher capacities.

It is known that the promise of lithium-ion batteries remains unrealized due to uncertainty about the future availability of lithium and cobalt, their costs, and their environmentally unsustainable mining practices, as well as associated safety challenges. The Azimi group aims to address these challenges through the development of alternative sustainable battery chemistries based on more abundant, lower cost, and safer elements such as aluminum (Al) that can offer better electrochemical performance compared with lithium-ion batteries. The Azimi group is among the first research teams proposing alternative electrolytes to replace expensive, corrosive, toxic, and air/moisture sensitive conventional chloroaluminate ionic liquids. The result of their work has led to 2 patent applications and several journal publications in top venues such as Advanced Energy Materials (IF: 29.368) and Joule (IF: 41.248).

Their innovative electrolyte chemistries have demonstrated great promise for high-performance Al-ion batteries made of safe, abundant, and inexpensive components with minimal environmental impact – an immense advantage over other Al-ion or lithium-ion batteries. Currently, the Azimi group is working with Mercedes Benz on developing performant cathode materials that, in combination with Al anode, can deliver 10-fold higher capacity than lithium-ion batteries. This research involves combined theoretical and experimental approaches and battery fabrication and electrochemical testing to design and develop novel cathode materials for their battery technology.

The successful completion of this research will usher in several prominent and unprecedented fundamental scientific advantages towards the advancement of energy storage technologies. The implementation of our proposed Al battery will expand renewable power capacity and modernize electricity systems through the integration of advanced energy storage technologies. This safe, robust, affordable, and efficient battery technology would enable the expansion of the number of zero-emission vehicles on Canadian roads and globally. Also, many remote communities globally, including indigenous communities in Northern Canada, do not have access to low-cost and/or reliable electrical grid, and the successful completion of the proposed research can help improve their standard of living by enabling microgrids powered by renewable generation in combination with the developed Al storage technology.