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Lithium-ion battery breakthrough could double energy density

12/03/2019
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With demand for batteries rocketing from all quarters- the automotive industry, domestic and industrial energy storage, consumer electronics and more- the race is on to develop batteries that have stronger energy densities, performance, and battery safety. Researchers from Penn State University have revealed a new way of constructing lithium-ion batteries which could deliver just those characteristics. 
The lithium-ion battery on a Nissan Leaf.
(The Lithium-ion battery on a Nissan Leaf. Image via Tennen-Gas / Wikipedia).

The breakthrough centres on the solid-electrolyte interphase (SEI). “This layer is very important and is naturally formed by the reaction between the lithium and the electrolyte in the battery”, sayd Donghai Wang, professor of mechanical and chemical engineering. “But it doesn’t behave very well, which causes a lot of problems”.

One of the least-understood components of lithium metal batteries, the degradation of the SEI contributes to the development of dendrites, which are needle-like formations that grow from the lithium electrode of the battery and negatively affect performance and safety.

To get around this problem, the researchers have used a polymer composite to create a much better SEI. 

This ‘enhanced’ SEI, is a reactive polymer composite consisting of polymeric lithium salt, lithium fluoride nanoparticles, and graphene oxide sheets. The novel construction of this battery component has thin layers of these materials, which is where Thomas E. Mallouk, Evan Pugh University Professor of Chemistry, lent his expertise.
A reactive polymer composite, picturing the electrochemical interface between lithium metal anode and electrolyte is stabilised by the use of a reactive polymer composite, enabling high-performance rechargeable lithium metal batteries.
(A reactive polymer composite, picturing the electrochemical interface between lithium metal anode and electrolyte is stabilised by the use of a reactive polymer composite, enabling high-performance rechargeable lithium metal batteries. Image via Donghai Wang / Penn State University).

“There is a lot of molecular-level control that is needed to achieve a stable lithium interface,” says Mallouk. “The polymer that has been designed reacts to make a claw-like bond to the lithium metal surface. It gives the lithium surface what it wants in a passive way so that it doesn’t react with the molecules in the electrolyte. The nanosheets in the composite act as a mechanical barrier to prevent dendrites from forming from the lithium metal”.

In short, the technology enables control of the lithium surface at the atomic scale.

“When we engineer batteries, we don’t necessarily think like chemists, all the way down to the molecular level, but that’s what we needed to do here,” says Mallouk.

The use of the reactive polymer layer within batteries also decreases the weight and manufacturing cost, further enhancing the properties of lithium-ion batteries.

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Lithium-ion battery breakthrough could double energy density - Time to read 3 min
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