All-solid-state electrochemical power cells have been fabricated and tested in a continuing effort to develop batteries for instruments for use in environments as hot as 500 °C. Batteries of this type are needed for exploration of Venus, and could be used on Earth for such applications as measuring physical and chemical conditions in geothermal and oil wells, processing furnaces, and combustion engines.
In the state-of-the-art predecessors of the present solid-state power cells, fully packaged molten eutectic salts are used as electrolytes. The molten-salt-based cells can be susceptible to significant amounts of self-discharge and corrosion when used for extended times at elevated temperatures. In contrast, all-solid-state cells such as the present ones are expected to be capable of operating for many days at temperatures up to 500 °C, without significant self-discharge.
The solid-state cell described here includes a cathode made of FeS2, an electrolyte consisting of a crystalline solid solution of equimolar amounts of Li3PO4 and Li4SiO4, and an anode made of an alloy of Li and Si (see figure). The starting material for making the solid electrolyte is a stoichiometric mixture of Li3PO4, SiO2, and Li3CO2. This mixture is ball-milled, then calcined for two hours at a temperature of 1,100 °C, then placed in a die atop the cathode material. Next, the layers in the die are squeezed together at a pressure between 60 and 120 MPa for one hour at a temperature of 600 °C to form a unitary structure comprising the solid electrolyte and cathode bonded together. Finally, the lithium-alloy anode is pressure-bonded to the solid electrolyte layer, using an intermediate layer of pure lithium.
In one test of a cell of this type, a discharge rate of about 1 mA per gram of cathode material was sustained for 72 hours at a temperature of about 460 °C. This is about three times the discharge rate required to support some of the longer duration Venus-exploration mission scenarios.
This work was done by Jay Whitacre and William West of Caltech for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.