Meet Our Editor Peter Bruce

© © John CairnsProf. Peter G. Bruce, FRS, FRSE

Department of Materials, University of Oxford

Book Edited: The Lithium Air Battery (2014)

What are today’s hottest trends in the fields of the materials chemistry and electrochemistry of batteries, and what excites you most?

There is increasing recognition that to achieve the step change in batteries required in the medium to long-term, it is essential to advance the fundamental underpinning science; this is what excites me about working in batteries today. More than ever before, we need to transform our scientific understanding of the materials chemistry and electrochemistry underpinning batteries. The topics that most excite me in lithium-ion batteries are the challenges involved in increasing the amount of charge that can be stored in the intercalation cathodes and the formidable scientific challenges surrounding the development of all solid-state batteries. I’m also excited about the prospect of sodium-ion batteries. And metal-air batteries continue to be an exciting topic.

How do you assess the potential of metal-air batteries, and in particular lithium-air batteries?

I’m glad to see that some of the excessive hype around metal-air batteries, in particular unrealistic timescales for when lithium-air might be a viable technology, have dissipated. Metal-air batteries, including lithium-air, hold great potential. However we do not understand enough about the underlying science. Only by transforming our understanding of the materials chemistry and electrochemistry underpinning metal-air batteries can we hope to make realistic, informed decisions about whether any of the metal-air systems have a realistic prospect of becoming a technology. Concerning lithium-air, as the hype died down, the science has risen, and the community working on this now understands much more about how the cell operates. In fact some of the supposed barriers to lithium-air technology have been shown not to exist. Recent progress has been significant, and who knows? We may yet see lithium-air batteries in certain applications in the future.

What do you envision for next generation lithium batteries? Will advances be incremental or fundamental?
Both. We will certainly see the incremental advance of lithium-ion batteries over the next few years, with increased energy density and lower costs. However, it is clear that society needs, in the medium to long-term, a step change in battery technology that is likely to outstrip what can be achieved with lithium-ion systems, we already know where their ultimate limit lies. So alongside the incremental development of lithium-ion battery technology, we must, as a research community, continue to drive hard to explore and understand possible advanced battery technologies, including lithium-sulfur and metal-air. Here fundamental advances in the underpinning science hold the key.

What compelled you to edit your book, The Lithium-Air Battery?

Actually I came to this reluctantly, having rejected invitations to edit a book on lithium-air previously, because I felt that the field was moving very rapidly and there wasn’t yet a reasonable foundation of knowledge that merited a textbook. However, I’m delighted my co-authors, co-editors and I have produced this book, as I believe we have reached a point where at least a first-stage understanding of the lithium-air battery has been achieved. I believe the book provides a platform on which to base the next stage of research in this field.

Can our energy goals be achieved with today’s batteries?

Not in the long-term. We know the limits imposed by today’s battery technologies and we really need to go beyond these to deliver energy storage suitable for significant decarbonisation of the electricity grid and the mass-market penetration of electric vehicles. Without this we won’t mitigate carbon emissions and will therefore struggle to keep global warming within limits that will preserve humanity and the beautiful planet on which we all live.

More information on Prof. Bruce's research:
Peter Bruce Group at University of Oxford