JUN 28, 2021 6:14 AM PDT

A full charge in 5 minutes? Sign me up!

A breakthrough study published in Nature describes a novel technique that can be used to peek inside lithium-ion batteries in real time – providing a glimpse at the processes occurring inside of batteries that are currently hindering faster and more efficient charging. This technique has serious implications not only for our current battery technologies but also for next-generation batteries.

"A better battery is one that can store a lot more energy or one that can charge much faster -- ideally both," said co-author Dr. Christoph Schnedermann, of the University of Cambridge's Cavendish Laboratory. "But to make better batteries out of new materials, and to improve the batteries we're already using, we need to understand what's going on inside them."

Although lithium-ion batteries are touted for their high energy densities and long lifetimes, they are expensive to produce and lithium mining is extremely detrimental to the environment. Lithium-ion batteries are also prone to overheating and even exploding. Because of these drawbacks, they have yet to be widely introduced into electric cars or solar power energy storage. However, this new insight could provide the missing information to understand the ongoing processes inside lithium-ion batteries.

"To really study what's happening inside a battery, you essentially have to get the microscope to do two things at once: it needs to observe batteries charging and discharging over a period of several hours, but at the same time it needs to capture very fast processes happening inside the battery," said first author Alice Merryweather.

Although this is technically already possible using synchrotron X-ray or electron microscopy techniques, these technologies are time-consuming and expensive. In contrast, the newly developed technique, called interferometric scattering microscopy, is low-cost and lets the researchers look on as individual particles of lithium cobalt oxide (LCO) charge and discharge. They do this by measuring the amount of scattered light. Schnedermann elaborates:  

"Given that lithium-ion batteries have been in use for decades, you'd think we know everything there is to know about them, but that's not the case. This technique lets us see just how fast it might be able to go through a charge-discharge cycle. What we're really looking forward to is using the technique to study next-generation battery materials -- we can use what we learned about LCO to develop new materials."

The team says that the technology could allow batteries like those in our smartphones and laptops to charge in as little as five minutes. "This lab-based technique we've developed offers a huge change in technology speed so that we can keep up with the fast-moving inner workings of a battery," said Schnedermann. "The fact that we can actually see these phase boundaries changing in real time was really surprising. This technique could be an important piece of the puzzle in the development of next-generation batteries."

Sources: Nature, Science Daily

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
You May Also Like
MAY 15, 2021
Chemistry & Physics
Rethinking the Hayden-Preskill thought experiment
MAY 15, 2021
Rethinking the Hayden-Preskill thought experiment
Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory have described a new theorem of quantum machine learning based on the Hayd ...
JUN 10, 2021
Chemistry & Physics
Covalent organic frameworks provide the backbone for new aerogels
JUN 10, 2021
Covalent organic frameworks provide the backbone for new aerogels
New aerogels developed at Rice University are highly durable and capable of producing light. The aerogels are composed o ...
JUN 21, 2021
Microbiology
In a Blow to Enzyme Latch Theory, Soil Microbes Break Down Polyphenols
JUN 21, 2021
In a Blow to Enzyme Latch Theory, Soil Microbes Break Down Polyphenols
Microbes have many connections to humans. Gut microbes have a major influence on our health. For example, when we eat fr ...
JUL 29, 2021
Chemistry & Physics
Neuston: The Understudied Secret of the Ocean's Surface
JUL 29, 2021
Neuston: The Understudied Secret of the Ocean's Surface
Sitting just below our ocean’s surface is a host of often overlooked organisms; ones who help connect our world&rs ...
SEP 10, 2021
Space & Astronomy
The Future (and Ethics) of Giant Telescopes
SEP 10, 2021
The Future (and Ethics) of Giant Telescopes
The fate of giant telescopes hangs in the balance as this decade comes to an end.
SEP 14, 2021
Space & Astronomy
NASA is Planning to Shoot a Spacecraft Into an Asteroid
SEP 14, 2021
NASA is Planning to Shoot a Spacecraft Into an Asteroid
NASA can detect asteroids, so there's been plenty of speculation about what might happen if we discover an asteroid ...
Loading Comments...