Scientists Working Toward Better Batteries

March 9, 2006
From left, Daniel Fischer, Won-Sub Yoon, James McBreen, and Xiao-Qing Yang.
From left, Daniel Fischer, Won-Sub Yoon, James McBreen, and Xiao-Qing Yang.

As more and more people rely on cell phones, laptop computers, personal organizers, and even hybrid electric-gas vehicles, scientists are working to develop rechargeable batteries that are ever smaller, cheaper, lighter, safer, and longer-lasting.

At the National Synchrotron Light Source, a collaboration of scientists is deeply involved in this effort. They are investigating a group of promising new materials for use in lithium-ion batteries, the most common type of battery found in portable electronics and the most promising type for hybrid cars.

Lithium-ion batteries work by shuttling positively charged lithium ions between the “cathode” (the battery’s positive terminal) and “anode” (the negative terminal). As the battery is charged, lithium ions are forced out of the cathode and moved into to the anode through the “electrolyte,” the solution inside the battery. When the battery is in use, the process reverses. The scientists are studying a group of new cathode compounds consisting of the elements lithium, cobalt, nickel, manganese, and oxygen.

“Despite the wide use of lithium-ion batteries, there have been very few studies on exactly how the cathode material behaves in the charging process,” said the study’s lead researcher, Brookhaven chemist Won-Sub Yoon. “How are the oxygen atoms involved? What is the relationship between the oxygen atoms and the other metal atoms in the compound? To design a better cathode material, and thus a better battery, these questions must be answered. An in-depth understanding of these problems will provide a road map for the development of these new materials.”

Using various x-ray techniques, Yoon and his colleagues have done just that. They discovered that as lithium ions leave the cathode material during the charging process, changes occur on the manganese and cobalt atoms that are quite different from those that occur on the nickel atoms. Specifically, the manganese and cobalt atoms do not lose electrons as the lithium ions are removed, while the nickel atoms, in contrast, do lose electrons. The group also learned more about how the cathode material compensates for the positive charge it loses as the lithium ions move to the anode. They found that empty regions with positive charge, called “holes,” are created in the cathode. In addition, their x-ray data show just where these holes are located: within the electron orbitals of oxygen atoms that are bound to cobalt atoms.

Gathering these details on the cathode’s electronic behavior is an important step in lithium-ion battery research. This new knowledge will help the material become a common component of a new series of better lithium-ion batteries. More detailed information on this research can be found in the group’s scientific paper, which is published in the December 14, 2005, edition of the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

The other scientists involved in this research are Kyung Yoon Chung, Xiao-Qing Yang, and James McBreen (BNL Chemistry Department); Mahalingam Balasubramanian (Argonne National Laboratory); Clare Grey (Stony Brook University); and Daniel Fischer (National Institute of Standards and Technology).

Source: BNL, by Laura Mgrdichian

Explore further: X-ray imaging reveals secrets in battery materials

Related Stories

X-ray imaging reveals secrets in battery materials

June 18, 2015

In a new study, researchers explain why one particular cathode material works well at high voltages, while most other cathodes do not. The insights, published in the 19 June issue of the journal Science, could help battery ...

The race for better batteries

June 15, 2015

"The worldwide transition from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy is under way…" according to the Earth Policy Institute's new book, The Great Transition.

The history and development of batteries

April 30, 2015

Batteries are so ubiquitous today that they're almost invisible to us. Yet they are a remarkable invention with a long and storied history, and an equally exciting future.

Layered compounds for li-ion batteries

April 28, 2015

Researchers from the Institute of Science, University Teknologi MARA Selangor conducted a study into the possibility of using new and cost effective compounds in Li ION battery application.

A nanoscale glimpse of batteries in action

September 13, 2013

Lithium–oxygen (Li–O2) batteries are a new type of experimental battery that electric car manufacturers are hoping will address the issue of limited driving range. Unlike the lithium-ion batteries used today, lithium–oxygen ...

Recommended for you

New blow for 'supersymmetry' physics theory

July 27, 2015

In a new blow for the futuristic "supersymmetry" theory of the universe's basic anatomy, experts reported fresh evidence Monday of subatomic activity consistent with the mainstream Standard Model of particle physics.

A cataclysmic event of a certain age

July 27, 2015

At the end of the Pleistocene period, approximately 12,800 years ago—give or take a few centuries—a cosmic impact triggered an abrupt cooling episode that earth scientists refer to as the Younger Dryas.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.