New research by Penn State University, recently published in the journal Nature Energy, proposes a fresh technique for making significantly longer-lasting, faster-charging, and safer lithium batteries.
According to the researchers, the process involves producing a three-dimensional, cross-linked polymer sponge that attaches to the metal plating of a battery node. The ultimate aim of the project is to develop a methodology for rolling out next generation batteries to the market.
“Lithium metal has been tried in batteries for decades, but there are some fundamental issues that inhibit their advancement,” said Donghai Wang, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, and the principal investigator of the project.
One of the key challenges for deploying lithium ion (Li) batteries in equipment which requires fast charging, such as electrical vehicles, is dendritic growth (tiny, needle-like protrusions jutting out from their metal anodes) which takes place under high strain, and can potentially lead to safety issues.
In the paper, Wang and his colleagues detail their success in eliminating the growth of dendrites by using a polymer on the interface of Li metal, which acts not unlike a porous sponge, promoting ion transfer and inhibiting deterioration even at low temperatures and fast-charge conditions.
The feat could not have been accomplished without the efforts of the Penn State Institutes of Energy and the Environment, and the Battery Energy and Storage Technology Centre, in bringing together researchers from a number of disciplines within the University.
“The collaboration in this cohort really helped drive this paper forward,” said Wang. “It allowed us to examine the different aspects of this problem, from materials science, chemical engineering, chemistry, and mechanical engineering perspectives.”
In terms of practical application, the type of next-gen Li battery proposed by the authors could extend the charge-free distance of electrical vehicles by approximately a hundred miles, and give smartphones a markedly longer battery life, among other applications.
Emboldened by the success, the research team plans to continue their work into the future to demonstrate the advantages and feasibility of their new battery, and possibly even double its life cycle.