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The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.
  • 2018-04-09 10:05:11
  • Article ID: 692422

Ultra-Powerful Batteries Made Safer, More Efficient

Team aims to curb formation of harmful crystal-like masses in lithium metal batteries

  • Credit: University of Delaware/ Illustration by Joy Smoker

    Through simulations and experiments, an international research team showed that a porous membrane stifled the formation of dendrites in lithium metal batteries.

From smartphones to electric vehicles, many of today's technologies run on lithium ion batteries. That means that consumers have to keep their chargers handy. An iPhone X battery only lasts for 21 hours of talk time, and Tesla's model S has a 335-mile range--which means you could expect to make it from Newark, Delaware to Providence, Rhode Island, but not all the way to Boston, on one charge.

Scientists all over the world - including even the inventor of lithium ion batteries himself, John Goodenough - are looking for ways to make rechargeable batteries safer, lighter, and more powerful.

Now, an international team of researchers led by Bingqing Wei, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Delaware and the director of the Center for Fuel Cells and Batteries, is doing work that could lay the foundation for more widespread use of lithium metal batteries that would have more capacity than the lithium ion batteries commonly used in consumer electronics today. The team developed a method to mitigate dendrite formation in lithium metal batteries, which they have described in a paper published in Nano Letters.

The promise (and pitfalls) of lithium metal batteries

In a lithium ion battery, the anode, or current-generating side, is made of a material, such as graphite, with lithium ions bound to it. The lithium ions flow to the cathode, or current-collecting side.

In a lithium metal battery, the anode is made of lithium metal. Electrons flow from the anode to the cathode to generate electricity. Rechargeable batteries made of lithium metal hold a lot of promise because lithium is the most electrically positive metal and has a very high capacity.

"Theoretically, lithium metal is one of the best choices for batteries, but it is hard to handle in practice," Wei said.

Lithium metal batteries have been inefficient, unstable, and even a fire hazard thus far. Their performance is hampered by lithium dendrites, formations that look like tiny stalagmites made of lithium deposits. As a battery is being used, lithium ions collect on the anode. Over time, the lithium deposits become non-uniform, leading to the formations of these dendrites, which can cause the battery to short circuit.

A new understanding

Research groups around the world have tried a variety of techniques to suppress the formation and growth of these dendrites. After studying the literature, Wei had found that almost all of the techniques applied could be understood under an umbrella: Introducing a layer of porous material into the system could deter dendrites from collecting on the anode.

Using mathematical modeling, the research team found that a porous material suppressed the initiation and growth of dendrites. The dendrites that did form were 75 percent shorter than those that formed in systems that lacked the porous membrane. To further prove the finding, the team fabricated a membrane made of tiny wires of porous silicon nitride that measured less than one millionth of a meter each. They then integrated this membrane into lithium metal cells in a battery and ran it for 3,000 hours. No dendrites grew.

"This fundamental understanding may not be limited to the silicon nitride we used," Wei said. "Other porous structures may do this too."

What's more, this principle may also extend to other battery systems, such as zinc- or potassium-based batteries, he said.

"In this field of metal-based batteries, this is up-to-date understanding," he said. "This is the kind of work that could have high impact."

Wei's collaborators on this paper include: Nan Li, Wenfei Wei, Keyu Xie, Kai Yuan, Qiang Song, Hejun Li and Chao Shen of the Northwestern Polytechnical University and Shaanxi Joint Laboratory of Graphene, Xi'an, China; Jinwang Tan and Emily M. Ryan of Boston University; Lin Zhang and Ling Liu of Utah State University; and Xiaodong Luo of Chongqing University of Science and Technology in Chongqing, China.

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Researchers Achieve HD Video Streaming at 10,000 Times Lower Power

Engineers at the University of Washington have developed a new HD video streaming method that doesn't need to be plugged in. Their prototype skips the power-hungry components and has something else, like a smartphone, process the video instead.

Lawrence Livermore Issues Combined State-by-State Energy and Water Use Flow Charts

For the first time, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) has issued state-by-state energy and water flow charts in one location so that analysts and policymakers can find all the information they need in one place.

Battery's Hidden Layer Revealed

An international team led by Argonne National Laboratory makes breakthrough in understanding the chemistry of the microscopically thin layer that forms between the liquid electrolyte and solid electrode in lithium-ion batteries. The results are being used in improving the layer and better predicting battery lifetime.

Ramp Compression of Iron Provides Insight into Core Conditions of Large Rocky Exoplanets

A team of researchers from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), Princeton University, Johns Hopkins University and the University of Rochester have provided the first experimentally based mass-radius relationship for a hypothetical pure iron planet at super-Earth core conditions. This discovery can be used to evaluate plausible compositional space for large, rocky exoplanets, forming the basis of future planetary interior models, which in turn can be used to more accurately interpret observation data from the Kepler space mission and aid in identifying planets suitable for habitability.

Getting Magnesium Ions to Pick Up the Pace

Magnesium ions move very fast to enable a new class of battery materials.

Valleytronics Discovery Could Extend Limits of Moore's Law

Research appearing today in Nature Communications finds useful new information-handling potential in samples of tin(II) sulfide (SnS), a candidate "valleytronics" transistor material that might one day enable chipmakers to pack more computing power onto microchips. 

Scientists Use Machine Learning to Speed Discovery of Metallic Glass

SLAC and its collaborators are transforming the way new materials are discovered. In a new report, they combine artificial intelligence and accelerated experiments to discover potential alternatives to steel in a fraction of the time.

Seeing How Next-Generation Batteries Power-Up

Scientists directly see how the atoms in a magnesium-based battery fit into the structure of electrodes.

A Heavyweight Solution for Lighter-Weight Combat Vehicles

Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have developed and successfully tested a novel process - called Friction Stir Dovetailing - that joins thick plates of aluminum to steel. The new process will be used to make lighter-weight military vehicles that are more agile and fuel efficient.

How to Turn Light Into Atomic Vibrations

Converting laser light into nuclear vibrations is key to switching a material's properties on and off for future electronics.


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Five Leading Liberal Arts Colleges Partner to Create New Solar Energy Facility in Maine

Amherst, Bowdoin, Hampshire, Smith and Williams colleges have formed a partnership that will allow them to offset 46,000 megawatt hours per year of their collective electrical needs--enough to power 5,000 New England homes--with electricity created at a solar power facility to be built in Maine.

Argonne Selects Innovators From Across Nation to Grow Startups

Argonne announces second cohort of Chain Reaction Innovations.

Brookhaven Lab Materials Physicist Yimei Zhu Receives 2018 Distinguished Scientist Award from the Microscopy Society of America

How do complex atomic and electronic interactions impact material properties? Using electron microscopy instrumentation and methods he developed, Yimei Zhu has been investigating this question for the past 30 years. The Microscopy Society of America is now recognizing his contributions.

SLAC Produces First Electron Beam with Superconducting Electron Gun

Accelerator scientists at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory are testing a new type of electron gun for a future generation of instruments that take snapshots of the atomic world in never-before-seen quality and detail, with applications in chemistry, biology, energy and materials science.

U.S., India Sign Agreement Providing for Neutrino Physics Collaboration at Fermilab and in India

Earlier today, April 16, 2018, U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and India's Atomic Energy Secretary Dr. Sekhar Basu signed an agreement in New Delhi to expand the two countries' collaboration on world-leading science and technology projects. It opens the way for jointly advancing cutting-edge neutrino science projects under way in both countries: the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility (LBNF) with the international Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE) hosted at the U.S. Department of Energy's Fermilab and the India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO).

Nanomaterials Expert Ganpati Ramanath Named Fellow of Materials Research Society

Nanomaterials expert Ganpati Ramanath, the John Tod Horton '52 Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, has been named a fellow of the Materials Research Society (MRS) "for developing creative approaches to realize new nanomaterials via chemically directed nanostructure synthesis and assembly and for tailoring interfaces in electronics and energy applications using molecular nanolayers."

Doing the Neutron Dance

Two materials scientists, Suzanne te Velthuis and Stephan Rosenkranz, have been named fellows of the Neutron Scattering Society of America (NSSA).

Hirohisa Tanaka Joins SLAC to Push Limits of Neutrino Physics

Accomplished neutrino physicist Hirohisa Tanaka has joined the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory as a professor of particle physics and astrophysics. He oversees a group at the lab that is preparing for research with the future Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE) at the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility (LBNF). The experiment will give scientists unprecedented opportunities to learn more about neutrinos - fundamental particles with mysterious properties that could play crucial roles in the evolution of the universe.

University Teams to Compete in Department of Energy's 2018 National Cyber Defense Competition

The U.S. Department of Energy is proud to announce the 29 university teams selected to compete in the third annual Cyber Defense Competition (CDC), taking place April 6-7, 2018.


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Getting Magnesium Ions to Pick Up the Pace

Magnesium ions move very fast to enable a new class of battery materials.

Seeing How Next-Generation Batteries Power-Up

Scientists directly see how the atoms in a magnesium-based battery fit into the structure of electrodes.

Worm-Inspired Tough Materials

Scientists mimic a worm's lethal jaw to design and form resilient materials.

How to Turn Light Into Atomic Vibrations

Converting laser light into nuclear vibrations is key to switching a material's properties on and off for future electronics.

Superacids Are Good Medicine for Super Thin Semiconductors

Scientists demonstrated that powerful acids heal certain structural defects in synthetic films.

Tubular Science Improves Polymer Solar Cells

Novel engineered polymers assemble buckyballs into columns using a conventional coating process.

Fast! Hard X-Ray Flash Breaks Speed Record

Lasting just a few hundred billionths of a billionth of a second, these bursts offer new tool to study chemistry and magnetism.

Scientists Have Overestimated Meteor Sizes

First demonstration of high-pressure metastability mapping with ultrafast X-ray diffraction shows objects aren't as large as previously thought.

Rewriting Resistance: Genetic Changes Increase Crops' Biomass and Sugar Release

Using genetic engineering, scientists improve biomass growth and conversion in woody and grassy feedstocks.

Measuring the Glow of Plants From Below

Novel observations suggest a great potential of measuring global gross primary production via solar-induced fluorescence.


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