Most lithium-ion batteries rely on liquid electrolytes to conduct ions between a negatively charged anode and a positively charge cathode – however liquid electrolytes run into safety problems due to their flammability. Now a team of researchers from Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) has developed a safer nano-structured solid electrolyte that is able to conduct ions 1,000 times faster than previous electrolytes of its kind.
The development was detailed in a study recently published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. Researcher Chengdu Liang led the ORNL team in using a process called “nanostructuring” to alter lithium thiophosphate to make it much more effficent at conducting ions. Additionally, whereas the majority of lithium-ion batteries use carbon-based anodes, ORNL’s research has shown that pure lithium metal anodes have the potential to make batteries five to ten more times powerful.
“Think about it in terms of a big crystal of quartz vs. very fine beach sand. You can have the same total volume of material, but it’s broken up into very small particles that are packed together. It’s made of the same atoms in roughly the same proportions, but at the nanoscale the structure is different. And now this solid material conducts lithium ions at a much greater rate than the original large crystal.” said coauthor Adam Rondinone.
The engineers are in the process of testing battery cells in the lab, and their patent is currently pending. Soon we may see electric vehicles taking advantage of safer solid electrolyte batteries with improved capacity for a greater range and increased efficiency.