A battery breakthrough that focuses on the building blocks

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The electrolyte part of a battery is like the guts or the basic building blocks of the battery — for a lithium ion battery, the ions flow back and forth from the anode to the cathode through the electrolyte. If battery makers could enhance just the basic electrolyte, it could provide a major breakthrough for batteries.

That’s what a year-and-a-half-old startup called Boulder Ionics is trying to do, according to a profile in MIT Tech Review. The company is developing an electrolyte made of ionic liquids that can function at high temperatures and voltages and is lower cost to make than the more standard way to make ionic liquids.

Such an electrolyte used in a lithium ion battery — like the kind used for both electric cars, cell phones and gadgets — could potentially create a battery that can store ten times as much energy as a traditional lithium ion battery, says the article. Earlier this year Boulder Ionics raised $4.3 million according to a filing.

Other startups are also working on boosting the capacity of the electrolyte, too. Seeo, a startup out of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and backed by Khosla Ventures, is working on creating a solid-state battery that uses a dry polymer instead of a liquid for the electrolyte. Sakti3, a startup based in Michigan, is also developing battery cells with a solid-state electrolyte, and says their innovation could double the energy density of a battery compared with existing lithium-ion batteries. Sakti3 is backed by Khosla Ventures, General Motors and Japanese conglomerate Itochu.

Daniel Abraham, a scientist at Argonne National Laboratory, told us last year that a variety of researchers are working on additives for liquid electrolytes that could function like vitamins do in our diet, enabling batteries to perform better and live longer by reducing harmful reactions between the electrodes and electrolytes. A startup called Leyden Energy is working on that, and has developed a salt mixture in a liquid electrolyte that has created a high-temperature-tolerant and longer-lasting battery.

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