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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.
  • 2017-10-16 12:05:45
  • Article ID: 683022

Breakthrough Cuttable, Flexible, Submersible and Ballistic-Tested Lithium-ion Battery Offers New Paradigm of Safety and Performance

  • Credit: Johns Hopkins APL

    Flexible battery is cut multiple times and immersed in synthetic sea water and continues to power load.

  • Credit: Johns Hopkins APL

    Battery is shot multiple times with an air cannon to simulate ballistic impact and continues to power load.

A team of scientists at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, has partnered with researchers from the University of Maryland (UMD) and the Army Research Laboratory (ARL) to develop a new type of flexible lithium-ion battery that can operate under extreme conditions, including cutting, submersion and ballistic impact. The team recently published their discovery in the journal Advanced Materials.

Li-ion batteries have become the energy storage source of choice for multiple applications, ranging from consumer electronics to military and aerospace systems, due to their energy and power performance. Despite these benefits, potential safety hazards associated with the organic electrolytes that are used in Li-ion battery cells remain an ongoing concern. These electrolytes are highly flammable, toxic, and moisture sensitive, limiting the forms in which a Li-ion battery can be manufactured.

In the recently published paper “Flexible Aqueous Li-ion Battery with High Energy and Power Densities” in Advanced Materials, a team of scientists from UMD, APL, and ARL have demonstrated a new type of flexible Li-ion battery that is not hazardous and also can continue to operate even under severe mechanical abuse.

The work builds upon a novel aqueous electrolyte referred to as “water-in-salt” developed in 2015 by UMD and ARL. This highly concentrated water-based electrolyte can address the key issue associated with the use of water in Li-ion batteries, which is the low electrochemical stability window of roughly 1.2 volts. By expanding this window to 3 volts, the water-in-salt enables much higher energy density aqueous Li-ion batteries.

“In recent years, UMD and ARL have explored several anode and cathode combinations that can be used within the stability window of our electrolyte. By collaborating with APL, we are starting to transition this technology into novel battery architectures and demonstrate its practical true potential,” said Chunsheng Wang, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at UMD and corresponding author of the paper.

In this new research, the team is embedding the water-in-salt electrolyte in a polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) polymer matrix, forming a gel polymer electrolyte (GPE). This GPE is even more stable than the liquid counterpart, and enables integration into a flexible battery configuration. “What limits the form factor of current Li-ion batteries is the flammable organic electrolytes. To ensure safety, you need sufficient packaging and protective measures. When the water-in-salt electrolyte was introduced, I thought that making a stable polymer version would radically change the way that Li-ion batteries are made and used,” said Kostas Gerasopoulos, senior research scientist and principal investigator at APL.

“By expanding the window of the electrolyte and improving its stability, we are also expanding the list of available materials that can be used to make working cells with long cycle life,” said Kang Xu, electrochemistry team leader and fellow at ARL. The team’s flexible battery uses LiVPO4F as the single active material in both the anode and cathode, forming a symmetric Li-ion battery. The “LiVPO4F is not a new material. It is well established as a Li-ion battery cathode. What makes it attractive for us is that it can be used as both anode and cathode within the stability window of the water-in-salt GPE, or alternatively, it can be matched with other high-voltage cathodes to achieve high energy density,” says Dr. Chongyin Yang, assistant research scientist at UMD and first author of the Advanced Materials article.

The team operated the flexible Li-ion battery in open air with minimal packaging, using only some electronically insulating heat-resistant tape to keep the flexible substrate in place. In their demonstration, the battery powered a significant motor load without any safety concerns. To demonstrate the full safety potential, the team attempted further tests that are not possible with today’s Li-ion batteries. These tests were performed while the battery was in operation and included cutting in air, immersing in sea water, and even subjecting it to ballistic testing at an APL facility. Impressively, not only do these abuse tests cause no catastrophic failure, but the battery maintains its performance and continues to power the load even when damaged and completely exposed to air and water.

The extraordinary safety of the water-in-salt GPE in the flexible cell stems from the fact that the water is strongly bound to the salt and that the water-in-salt GPE is slightly hydrophobic. “We wanted to show the real implications of this technology in practical applications. Particularly for our military, with our warfighters exposed to extreme conditions and environments during their missions, the capability to maintain both safety and performance is unprecedented,” said Gerasopoulos. “By making the batteries flexible and lighter compared to the devices currently used in the field, you can significantly decrease the burden to the warfighter,” added Xu.

The current generation of flexible batteries shows considerable potential, but they are still in the prototype phase. The team is looking for opportunities to transition the technology to make it available to the military. “We want to increase the robustness of the GPE and the energy density of the batteries even further. This work though proves the concept that we can build safe Li-ion batteries that can survive mechanical abuse,” said Gerasopoulos.

“Our team is currently working on several key innovations both in the materials and manufacturing,” said Jeffrey P. Maranchi, Signature, Energy and Materials Science Program Manager at APL. “We are interacting closely with the defense community, and we are very encouraged by the feedback we are receiving. We are not that far away from testing in the field. The sky is the limit for this technology.”

Journal Reference: Chongyin Yang, Xiao Ji, Xiulin Fan, Tao Gao, Liumin Suo, Fei Wang, Wei Sun, Ji Chen, Long Chen, Fudong Han, Ling Miao, Kang Xu, Konstantinos Gerasopoulos, Chunsheng Wang. Flexible Aqueous Li-Ion Battery with High Energy and Power Densities. Advanced Materials, 2017; DOI: 0.1002/adma.201701972.

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Columbia Researchers Squeeze Light into Nanoscale Devices and Circuits

Columbia investigators have made a major breakthrough in nanophotonics research, with their invention of a novel "home-built" cryogenic near-field optical microscope that has enabled them to directly image, for the first time, the propagation and dynamics of graphene plasmons at variable temperatures down to negative 250 degrees Celsius. If researchers can harness this nanolight, they will be able to improve sensing, subwavelength waveguiding, and optical transmission of signals.

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Supersonic Waves May Help Electronics Beat the Heat

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Flexible, Highly Efficient Multimodal Energy Harvesting

A piezoelectric ceramic foam supported by a flexible polymer support provides a 10-fold increase in the ability to harvest mechanical and thermal energy over standard piezo composites, according to Penn State researchers.


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Power to the People

The University of Utah College of Engineering has received a $2 million grant to create a laboratory and develop new technology for communities with backup power sources, known as microgrids, so they can quickly and more securely operate in the event of a massive power outage due to a natural disaster or cyberattack.

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U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry announced that the Department of Energy will award 219 grants totaling $34 million to 183 small businesses in 41 states. Funded through DOE's Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs, today's selections are for Phase I research and development.

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Sandia National Laboratories will receive $10.5 million from the Department of Energy to research and design a cheaper and more efficient solar energy system.The work focuses on refining a specific type of utility-scale solar energy technology that uses mirrors to reflect and concentrate sunlight onto a receiver on a tower.

Solar Turbines, Inc. Selects Penn State to Establish Center of Excellence in Gas Turbines

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ORNL Facility Receives American Nuclear Society's Historic Landmark Designation

The American Nuclear Society has designated the Radiochemical Engineering Development Center at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory an ANS Nuclear Historic Landmark, recognizing more than 50 years of isotope production and nuclear fuel cycle research.

Steven Cowley named director of DOE's Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

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Scientists Turn X-ray Laser Into World's Fastest Water Heater

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PNNL Part of a New National Center for Near-Atomic Resolution of Biological Molecules

A collaboration between the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Oregon Health & Science University has been chosen as a national center for a Nobel Prize-winning method of imaging, cryo-electron microscopy, that is revolutionizing structural biology.

SLAC Will Open One of Three NIH National Service Centers for Cryo-Electron Microscopy

The National Institutes of Health announced today that it will establish a national service and training center for cryogenic electron microscopy research at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

Planck Collaboration Wins 2018 Gruber Cosmology Prize

The Planck Team--including researchers in Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's (Berkeley Lab's) Computational Research and Physics divisions--have been awarded the 2018 Gruber Cosmology Prize.


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The Secret to Measuring an Antineutrino's Energy

Scientists are developing better models that describe both neutrino and antineutrino data, which can offer insights into the nature of the universe.

How to Cope with Cases of Mistaken Identity: MINERvA's Tale of Pions and Neutrinos

Neutral pion production is a major character in a story of mistaken identity worthy of an Agatha Christie novel.

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Optimizing lithium-sulfur battery electrolytes for long life.

Huge "Thermometer" Takes Temperatures of Tiny Samples

New spectroscopic technique measures heat in itty-bitty volumes that could reveal insights for electronics and energy technology.

Water, Water, Everywhere, but How Does It Flow?

Scientists use new X-ray technique to see how water moves at the molecular level.

Magnetized Plasmas That "Twist Light" Can Produce Powerful Microscopes and More

A non-twisting laser beam moving through magnetized plasma turns into an optical vortex that traps, rotates, and controls microscopic particles, opening new frontiers in imaging.

Whistling While You Work: Fusion Scientists Find Inspiration in Atmospheric Whistles

Just like lightning, fusion plasmas contain odd electromagnetic whistler waves that could control destructive electrons in fusion reactors.

Zero Tolerance in Tokamaks: Eliminating Small Instabilities Before They Become Disruptions

Energetic ions and beam heating cause or calm instabilities, depending on the tokamak's magnetic field.

MURR Becomes First Reactor Facility to Join DOE's Isotope Program

DOE and MURR partner to ensure scientists have access to essential research isotopes.


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