Electric vehicles (EVs) are becoming increasingly popular around the globe. According to the Pew Research Center, about 7% of U.S. adults say they’ve purchased an EV, with more than a third suggesting they are very likely to buy one. Electric vehicles do offer a benefit to the environment–they produce less emissions during their actual operations if in fully electric mode, and, in terms of overall life cycle, have a better emissions profile compared to conventional combustion engines.
A key problem EVs face, however, are the batteries needed to operate them. Conventional batteries have proven risky and ineffective. You’ve probably seen headlines about fires caused by EV batteries; that’s because traditional batteries used in EVs are very susceptible to damage. Liquid electrolyte is used to move ions. However, the smallest amount of damage to the battery can cause a leak and trigger an explosion, making these batteries an unsustainable option for EVs. As a result, the EV industry has looked to building solid-state batteries, but these are expensive and difficult to make.
In response to this challenge, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have turned to a common, familiar material to build more sustainable, safe, effective batteries: rubber.
According to a study published in Nature, researchers examined how the use of 3D synthetic rubbers could be used to ensure a structurally sound, long-lasting battery with a low risk of fire or explosion.
The challenge with lithium-ion batteries was in how the ions moved in the battery, so any new approach would need a stable yet efficient way to carry out this process. The unique 3D structure of the rubber-based batteries appeared to allow for more efficient movement of ions in the battery, which will increase the energy output and produce more mileage for EVs. A simple polymerization process was used to synthesize the batteries.
Overall, rubber offers several advantages, though the key ones are (1) its uses in many other products, making it a widely available and cheap option, and (2) its durability, which, in addition to its cost, could allow researchers to lead the way in the production of cheap, reliable EV batteries.
Sources: Eureka Alert!; Nature; Pew Research; Energy.gov