IMO-IMOMEC research takes important step towards ideal battery. Sep 15, 2016
Prof. dr. Frank RENNER
The search for a better, more efficient generation of lithium-ion batteries is today closely focused around the development of ever smaller (nano)materials. But these nanoparticles do not systematically lead to better results, according to an international study by Prof. Frank Renner and doctoral student Boaz Moeremans (Institute for Materials Research IMO-IMOMEC, Hasselt University). The research represents an important step forward in the quest for the ideal battery material. The results were recently published in the scientific journal Nature Communications.
Lithium-ion batteries are almost ubiquitous – all the way down to our smartphones and laptops. In order to make the electric car just as conventional a means of transport as the traditional car, scientists today are conducting intensive research into even better battery materials. One general trend in this industrial and academic research is that ever smaller nanostructures are being developed.
“When the battery is used, the lithium ions move between two electrodes through a saline solution”, explains Hasselt University doctoral student Boaz Moeremans. “When they arrive at the electrode, they have to enter it through ‘atomic doors’. If a lot of electricity is suddenly needed, for example when an electric car is accelerating, a queue of lithium ions can build up in front of these doors – and the battery’s full capacity is not used. Developing smaller or more porous electrode particles creates more doors, allowing the lithium ions to nestle in the electrode more quickly and efficiently.”
To determine whether these nanostructures really do lead to more efficient battery use, the researchers examined the pores in battery materials. Professor Frank Renner (IMO/Hasselt University): “Using a nano device – a surface forces apparatus – we pushed two atomically flat surfaces together so that we could mimic nano pores. We discovered that the liquid saline solution on the surface of the battery material forms a rigid liquid layer 1 to 2 nanometres thick. Lithium ions are unable to move smoothly through this layer, and the smallest pores are unable to serve as a gateway to the electrode. And that also means that you cannot use the full capability of the battery.”
Major step forwards
The researchers say the results represent a major step forwards in the search for the blueprint of the ideal battery material. “The next step is to develop battery materials based on our findings”, Prof. Renner says. “We are working in tandem with Umicore – the global leader in lithium-ion battery materials – on a new generation of battery materials with a very high energy capacity. The commercialisation of this material will open the door to a future where the electric car is the rule rather than the exception. Moreover, Hasselt University – together with EnergyVille (Genk) – will work on the further development of this technology for home solar panels.”
The research is a collaboration between Hasselt University, the Max-Planck-Institut für Eisenforschung (Düsseldorf), TUBA Freiberg (Germany) and Brown University (USA). Umicore (Olen) is supporting the research as an industrial partner.
Read the article in Nature Communications: http://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms12693
Prof. Dr Frank Uwe Renner (Hasselt University): +32 499/058.545
Boaz Moeremans (Hasselt University): +32 487/455.249