Crystal clues to better batteries

Feb 19, 2007
Crystal clues to better batteries
Crystals of sodium cobaltate grown at the Clarendon Laboratory. Credit: Stuart Bebb, Oxford University’s Department of Physics.

Longer-lasting laptop and mobile phone batteries could be a step closer thanks to research by scientists at the University of Oxford.

Researchers from Oxford’s Department of Physics are part of an international team investigating sodium cobaltate: a material similar in structure to the lithium cobaltate used in rechargeable batteries for many electronic devices.

In a recent Nature paper the team describe the patterning of ions in sodium cobaltate– observations that are helping to unlock the secrets of how ions move around inside the electrodes of lithium-based batteries. Their findings could lead to improvements in battery design.

Vital to their success were the very high quality single crystals of sodium cobaltate grown by Dr D Prabhakaran in the Clarendon Laboratory. ‘The hardest part was learning how to control the concentration of sodium in the crystals,’ Dr Prabhakaran said. ‘I achieved this by using a special type of floating-zone furnace that allows the growth of crystals in a high-pressure atmosphere and reduces the evaporation of sodium.’ These samples were then bombarded with neutrons to reveal how the sodium ions were arranged.

Professor Andrew Boothroyd, a member of the Oxford team, said: ‘If you want to engineer new materials with improved properties you need to know how they work. Knowing the forces which drive the sodium ion ordering we can start to understand how the ions move through the structure and explain many of the observed electrical and magnetic properties of this fascinating material – such as a superconducting phase that only develops after you immerse it in water.’

Source: Oxford University

Explore further: To conduct, or to insulate? That is the question

Related Stories

The race for better batteries

Jun 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.

Mechanism for aprotic sodium-air batteries

May 29, 2015

The automobile industry has been interested in finding batteries that allow electric cars to travel at a comparable distance to gas-powered cars. Currently, electric cars use a lithium ion battery, but there ...

Power to the batteries

May 22, 2015

Better solar panels and wind turbines are important to helping ensure a low-carbon future. But they are not enough. The energy from these intermittent sources must be stored, managed, converted and accessed ...

Recommended for you

To conduct, or to insulate? That is the question

Jul 02, 2015

A new study has discovered mysterious behaviour of a material that acts like an insulator in certain measurements, but simultaneously acts like a conductor in others. In an insulator, electrons are largely stuck in one place, ...

How oversized atoms could help shrink

Jul 01, 2015

"Lab-on-a-chip" devices – which can carry out several laboratory functions on a single, micro-sized chip – are the result of a quiet scientific revolution over the past few years. For example, they enable ...

User comments : 0

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.