Making lithium-ion batteries safer, stronger

September 12, 2017 by Sam Hostettler, University of Illinois at Chicago
Making lithium-ion batteries safer, stronger
Reza Shahbazian-Yassar, left, and Yifei Yuan. Credit: University of Illinois at Chicago

Today's rechargeable lithium-ion batteries are good, but they could be much better in the future.

That's what University of Illinois at Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory researchers have concluded, following extensive studies using real-time transmission electron microscopy, or TEM. The technique, they report in Nature Communications, is the most effective way to understand the electrochemical reactions of lithium-ion batteries and to learn how the batteries can be modified to become safer, stronger, longer lasting and cheaper.

"Despite widespread use, rechargeable ion batteries face various materials and interfacial challenges that exclude them from high power and high-performance applications," says Reza Shahbazian-Yassar, associate professor of mechanical and industrial engineering and one of the co-authors on the paper that includes Khalil Amine and Jun Lu of Argonne.

Lithium-ion batteries are commonly used in home and portable electronics, and in some motor vehicles. They function by the movement of lithium ions from the negative electrode to the positive electrode during discharge and back when charging. And while the market is projected to reach more than $77 billion by 2024, according to Transparency Market Research, researchers say that several questions need to be addressed before better batteries can be produced.

"There are many scientific challenges, and we want to learn what causes the batteries to fade during cycling; why lower temperatures cause a poor power supply; why it may overheat and explode; and why the batteries become unstable if overcharged," Shahbazian-Yassar said.

"Sometimes good materials are made but they are not safe," he said. "Sometimes they are made safe but they don't deliver enough energy to work. We want to find a happy medium."

For example, Shahbazian-Yassar says the batteries that are used today fall short of reaching the high-energy density or longevity required to while still matching the performance of vehicles powered by . Therefore, new combinations of electrochemicals consisting of lithium and oxygen, and lithium and silicon, are being examined because of their ability to hold and generate higher densities of energy.

Shahbazian-Yassar and Yifei Yuan, a postdoctoral researcher working jointly at UIC and Argonne and the lead author on the study, used real-time TEM to study the batteries because the technique allows researchers to modify specimens—either through heating, straining or other uncontrolled processes—in a deliberate way.

There are numerous advantages to conducting research in situ, or in real time, Shahbazian-Yassar said. A single in situ experiment provides a continuous view of a process and its changes, instead of employing many samples; and specific and detailed movements can be measured.

In addition to lithium, a light but highly reactive material with limited supply in the earth, researchers are interested in exploring alternative charge carriers such as sodium, because of its rich storage in the earth and relatively light atomic weight, and multivalent ions with high-energy density, such as magnesium, calcium and aluminum.

"The components of batteries must be changed and new designs and materials must be used that cost less," Shahbazian-Yassar said. "The batteries need to deliver more energy and better performance, providing double or triple the amount of energy density they now provide. Overall, if you look at the last 10 years, the battery cost is reducing, but it's still not in the range we are hoping for.

"There needs to be high standards when developing the next generation of , and we're working towards that," he said.

Explore further: Salt power: Watt's next in rechargeable batteries?

More information: Yifei Yuan et al. Understanding materials challenges for rechargeable ion batteries with in situ transmission electron microscopy, Nature Communications (2017). DOI: 10.1038/ncomms15806

Related Stories

Recommended for you

When does one of the central ideas in economics work?

February 20, 2019

The concept of equilibrium is one of the most central ideas in economics. It is one of the core assumptions in the vast majority of economic models, including models used by policymakers on issues ranging from monetary policy ...

In colliding galaxies, a pipsqueak shines bright

February 20, 2019

In the nearby Whirlpool galaxy and its companion galaxy, M51b, two supermassive black holes heat up and devour surrounding material. These two monsters should be the most luminous X-ray sources in sight, but a new study using ...

Research reveals why the zebra got its stripes

February 20, 2019

Why do zebras have stripes? A study published in PLOS ONE today takes us another step closer to answering this puzzling question and to understanding how stripes actually work.

Correlated nucleons may solve 35-year-old mystery

February 20, 2019

A careful re-analysis of data taken at the Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility has revealed a possible link between correlated protons and neutrons in the nucleus and a 35-year-old mystery. ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

5 / 5 (2) Sep 12, 2017
no thanks, not putting a SALT battery in my electronics, research harder, find something better.
5 / 5 (1) Sep 12, 2017
You are aware that the electrolyte in lithium ion batteries is a salt?
not rated yet Sep 12, 2017
By far not as concentrated and corrosive as pure sodium.
5 / 5 (1) Sep 16, 2017
Understand, kiddies, that batteries use a CHEMICAL process, and in a CHEMICAL process where high energy density is REQUIRED, then a high energy CHEMICAL reaction will be sought as the base around which the unit cell is designed. Any college junior level course in physical chemistry which goes into energy relationships vs reactions and reaction direction wlll require you to get intimate with this knowledge. Understand also that 'SALT's are the mundane products of acids and a generic term just like acid and base. FrF is the salt of the monovalent and highly electro negative radioactive alkali metal Francium and the highly electropositive monovalent halogen gaseous element Flourine. The combining of these two releases the greatest energy of all chemistries. You would not want to be near either one.....OR its salt. All soluble flourine salts are P-O-I-S-O-N. Driving cars is hazardous. So is gasoline! Ba a man/woman and suck it up, buttercup!
not rated yet Sep 16, 2017
ALL cells, the unit component of batteries, 'piles' in brit english, use half-reactions involving 'salts'. So 'pappy told ya'! Nuff said!

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.