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ORNL research paves way for larger, safer lithium ion batteries
Date:1/23/2013

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Jan. 23, 2013 -- Looking toward improved batteries for charging electric cars and storing energy from renewable but intermittent solar and wind, scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory have developed the first high-performance, nanostructured solid electrolyte for more energy-dense lithium ion batteries.

Today's lithium-ion batteries rely on a liquid electrolyte, the material that conducts ions between the negatively charged anode and positive cathode. But liquid electrolytes often entail safety issues because of their flammability, especially as researchers try to pack more energy in a smaller battery volume. Building batteries with a solid electrolyte, as ORNL researchers have demonstrated, could overcome these safety concerns and size constraints.

"To make a safer, lightweight battery, we need the design at the beginning to have safety in mind," said ORNL's Chengdu Liang, who led the newly published study in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. "We started with a conventional material that is highly stable in a battery system in particular one that is compatible with a lithium metal anode."

The ability to use pure lithium metal as an anode could ultimately yield batteries five to 10 times more powerful than current versions, which employ carbon based anodes.

"Cycling highly reactive lithium metal in flammable organic electrolytes causes serious safety concerns," Liang said. "A solid electrolyte enables the lithium metal to cycle well, with highly enhanced safety."

The ORNL team developed its solid electrolyte by manipulating a material called lithium thiophosphate so that it could conduct ions 1,000 times faster than its natural bulk form. The researchers used a chemical process called nanostructuring, which alters the structure of the crystals that make up the material.

"Think about it in terms of a big crystal of quartz vs. very fine beach sand," said coauthor
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Contact: Morgan McCorkle
mccorkleml@ornl.gov
865-574-7308
DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert  

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