Magnesium Batteries: Departure into the Post-Lithium Age

January 04, 2019 by Paul Shepard

In the European research project E-MAGIC Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and Helmholtz Institute Ulm (HIU) are developing a magnesium-based energy storage technology together with cooperation partners

More efficient, cheaper and safer than lithium-ion batteries: this is the hope of scientists from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and their cooperation partners of novel magnesium batteries that they want to develop in the research project E-MAGIC. The research project, funded by the European Union with over €6.5 million, brings together relevant activities of various European science institutions.

A magnesium battery would have advantages compared to conventional lithium-ion batteries: magnesium as an anode material allows a higher energy density and would also be much safer.

"Magnesium is a promising material and one of the most important candidates in our post-lithium strategy," says Professor Maximilian Fichtner, deputy director of the Helmholtz Institute Ulm (HIU), one of KIT in cooperation with the University of Ulm and its associated partners DLR and ZSW founded research institute for the research and development of electrochemical battery concepts.

"A broad availability of magnesium batteries could significantly advance the electrification of mobility and the development of decentralized home storage,” concluded Professor Fichtner.

To accelerate the development of the novel battery type, The HIU is now cooperating with other scientific institutions in the field of battery and material research in the research project European Magnesium Interactive Battery Community (E-MAGIC).

The research project funded by the EU in the "Horizon 2020" program brings together the expertise of a total of ten scientific institutions and the HIU receives a high six-figure sum. E-MAGIC is coordinated by the Spanish Fundación Cidetec.

In E-MAGIC, the partners combine all necessary steps to develop magnesium batteries, from basic research to cell production processes. Above all, the scientists at HIU want to help understand the obstacles and challenges at the material level and to find new solutions to current obstacles.

"The special challenge with magnesium batteries is a long life," explains Dr. med. Zhirong Zhao-Karger, who coordinates the activities of the new research project at the HIU Solid State Chemistry Research Group.

But there are a number of positive characteristics of the new battery material that you want to use: For example, the magnesium anodes do not form dendrites. Such electrochemical deposits on the electrodes can form needle-like structures in lithium-ion batteries and cause disturbances or even dangerous short circuits.

"Magnesium has no comparable processes. Therefore, we can use magnesium in metallic form and thus directly use the very high storage capacity of the metal. This increases the performance of the battery, "says Zhao-Karger.

In addition to greater safety and energy density, the advent of magnesium technology in battery manufacturing could also help reduce dependence on lithium as a raw material: as an element, magnesium is on Earth about 3,000-times more abundant than lithium, and can be simpler be recycled.

Accordingly, magnesium batteries would also be cheaper than lithium-ion batteries. As Europe advances in development, magnesium batteries could also help lessen the dominance of Asian battery cell manufacturers and establish competitive battery manufacturing in Europe.