Configuration of a newly developed lithium-air cell.

A press release shared by researchers at Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) reports that they have come up with a way to separate the electrolytes within a lithium-air cell with a solid conductor glass film. That keeps solid byproducts from forming and clogging the air electrode, the researchers say.

The process could help solve a key challenge of lithium-air batteries, which like their zinc-air counterparts generate energy by exposing metal and an electrolyte to oxygen. The chemical process used to generate power is hard to reverse, in part because of the formation of solid materials that can clog the system.

It would be a good problem to solve, since lithium-air technology promises energy storage capacities of about 10 times those of lithium-ion batteries, according to backers.

Comparison of cathode discharging capacity with that of conventional lithium ion battery.

AIST’s researchers said their new experimental batteries could offer a tenfold or greater improvement on those other lithium-air technologies. But they also noted that “the lithium-air battery newly developed by AIST needs further technical improvement toward practical use.”

The AIST researchers used an organic electrolyte containing lithium salt as the anode and an aqueous electrolyte as the cathode, with a “lithium super-ion conductor glass film” in between.

The resulting byproduct wasn’t a solid lithium oxide, but a lithium hydroxide that dissolves in the water-based solution, avoiding the clogging that would come from a solid byproduct.

To avoid corrosion during recharging, the battery would have its water solution (with the dissolved lithium byproduct) removed from the system and replace it with fresh water-based solution.

The result, researchers said, could be a car battery that can be “recharged” by removing the used aqueous gel solution and replacing it with fresh solution, as well as adding new cartridges of lithium salts for the anode side. That would make the device more like a fuel cell than a traditional definition of a battery, in which materials aren’t removed when it is recharged.