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New Material Derived From Trees Could Pave Way for Better, Safer Batteries

For the purpose of developing more powerful and safer batteries, researchers are experimenting with solid materials that can be used to replace the liquids that are currently used in lithium ion batteries. As a result of their work, a team of scientists from Brown University and the University of Maryland has developed a new material for use in solid-state batteries that comes from an unexpected source: trees.

In a paper published in the journal Nature, the team describes a solid ion conductor made of copper and cellulose nanofibrils, which are polymer tubes derived from wood that conduct electricity. According to the researchers, the ion conductivity of the paper-thin material is 10 to 100 times greater than that of other polymer ion conductors, indicating that it is superior to them. In addition to being used as an electrolyte for solid batteries, it could also be used as an ion-conducting binder for the cathode of an all-solid-state battery.

Professor Liangbing Hu of the University of Maryland's Department of Materials Science and Engineering said the team demonstrated that by incorporating copper into one-dimensional cellulose nanofibers, the normally ion-insulating cellulose allows for faster lithium-ion transport within the polymer chains. " We discovered that this ion conductor had the highest ionic conductivity of any solid polymer electrolyte, which was a significant discovery.

In collaboration with Hu's lab and Yue Qi's lab at Brown University's School of Engineering, the researchers carried out their investigation.

In today's lithium ion batteries, which are found in everything from cellphones to automobiles, the electrolytes are composed of lithium salt dissolved in an organic solvent that is either liquid or solid at room temperature. Lithium ions are transported between the cathode and anode of a battery by the electrolyte, which performs this function. Despite the fact that liquid electrolytes perform admirably, they do have some disadvantages. The formation of tiny lithium metal filaments in the electrolyte, known as dendrites, can occur at high currents, resulting in short circuits. Aside from that, liquid electrolytes are composed of flammable and toxic chemicals that have the potential to catch fire.

Solid electrolytes have the potential to inhibit dendrite penetration and can be produced using non-flammable materials. Solid electrolytes have the potential to inhibit dendrite penetration. So far, ceramic materials have been found to be the most effective solid electrolytes. Ceramic materials are excellent conductors of ions but are also dense, rigid, and brittle. Cracks and breaks can occur as a result of manufacturing stresses, as well as charging and discharging the battery pack.

Although the material used in this study is extremely thin and flexible, it is similar to a piece of paper in appearance. Furthermore, it has an ion conductivity that is comparable to that of ceramic materials.

Using computer simulations of the copper-cellulose material's microscopic structure, Qi and Qisheng Wu, a senior research associate at Brown University, were able to determine why the material conducts ions so effectively. In the modeling study, copper was found to increase the amount of space between cellulose polymer chains, which are normally tightly packed together to form bundles. With the increased spacing, ion superhighways are created, allowing lithium ions to travel relatively unhindered through the system.

"The lithium ions in this organic solid electrolyte move through the material using mechanisms that are similar to those found in inorganic ceramics," Qi explained, explaining how the material's record high ion conductivity was achieved. In addition, by utilizing renewable and sustainable natural resources, we can reduce our overall environmental impact from battery manufacturing.

In addition to serving as a solid electrolyte in solid-state batteries, the new material can also be used as a cathode binder in these batteries. Cathodes must be significantly thicker than anodes in order to match their capacity. That thickness, on the other hand, can impair ion conduction, resulting in a reduction in efficiency. In order for thick cathodes to function properly, they must be encased in an ion-conducting binder. Using their new material as a binder, the team demonstrated one of the thickest functional cathodes ever reported, demonstrating one of the thickest functional cathodes ever reported.

According to the researchers, the new material will pave the way for the widespread adoption of solid-state battery technology on a large scale.

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