Self-assembling 3-D battery would charge in seconds

May 17, 2018 by Tom Fleischman, Cornell University
A rendering of the 3D battery architecture (top; not to scale) with interpenetrating anode (grey, with minus sign), separator (green), and cathode (blue, plus sign), each about 20 nanometers in size. Below are their respective molecular structures. Credit: Wiesner Group

The world is a big place, but it's gotten smaller with the advent of technologies that put people from across the globe in the palm of one's hand. And as the world has shrunk, it has also demanded that things happen ever faster—including the time it takes to charge an electronic device.

A cross-campus collaboration led by Ulrich Wiesner, professor of engineering in the at Cornell University, addresses this demand with a novel architecture that has the potential for lightning-quick charges.

The group's idea: Instead of having the batteries' anode and cathode on either side of a nonconducting separator, intertwine the components in a self-assembling, 3-D gyroidal structure, with thousands of nanoscale pores filled with the elements necessary for energy storage and delivery.

"This is truly a revolutionary battery architecture," said Wiesner, whose group's paper, "Block Copolymer Derived 3-D Interpenetrating Multifunctional Gyroidal Nanohybrid for Electrical Energy Storage," was published May 16 in Energy and Environmental Science, a publication of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

"This three-dimensional architecture basically eliminates all losses from dead volume in your device," Wiesner said. "More importantly, shrinking the dimensions of these interpenetrated domains down to the nanoscale, as we did, gives you orders of magnitude higher power density. In other words, you can access the energy in much shorter times than what's usually done with conventional battery architectures."How fast is that? Wiesner said that, due to the dimensions of the battery's elements being shrunk down to the nanoscale, "by the time you put your cable into the socket, in seconds, perhaps even faster, the battery would be charged."

The architecture for this concept is based on self-assembly, which the Wiesner group has employed for years in other devices, including a gyroidal solar cell and a gyroidal superconductor. Joerg Werner, Ph.D. '15, lead author on this work, had experimented with self-assembling photonic devices, and wondered if the same principles could be applied to carbon materials for .

The gyroidal thin films of carbon—the battery's anode, generated by block copolymer self-assembly—featured thousands of periodic pores on the order of 40 nanometers wide. These pores were then coated with a 10 nm-thick, electronically insulating but ion-conducting separator through electropolymerization, which by the very nature of the process produced a pinhole-free separation layer.

That's vital, since defects like holes in the separator are what can lead to catastrophic failure giving rise to fires in mobile devices such as cellphones and laptops.

The next step is the addition of the cathode material—in this case, sulfur—in an amount that doesn't quite fill the remainder of the pores. Since sulfur can accept electrons but doesn't conduct electricity, the final step is backfilling with an electronically conducting polymer—known as PEDOT (poly[3,4-ethylenedioxythiophene]).

While this architecture offers proof of concept, Wiesner said, it's not without challenges. Volume changes during discharging and charging the battery gradually degrade the PEDOT charge collector, which doesn't experience the volume expansion that sulfur does.

"When the sulfur expands," Wiesner said, "you have these little bits of polymer that get ripped apart, and then it doesn't reconnect when it shrinks again. This means there are pieces of the 3-D battery that you then cannot access."

The group is still perfecting the technique, but applied for patent protection on the proof-of-concept work.

Explore further: Researchers create first self-assembled superconductor

More information: J. G. Werner et al. Block copolymer derived 3-D interpenetrating multifunctional gyroidal nanohybrids for electrical energy storage, Energy & Environmental Science (2018). DOI: 10.1039/C7EE03571C

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8 comments

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JamesG
5 / 5 (1) May 17, 2018
So many solutions and no actually hardware on the market. Sometimes I think I read too much science. :)
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (6) May 17, 2018
It takes around a decade-- and that's a very optimistic minimum-- to bring a technology like this to market. The first Li-ion batteries were developed in 1973; the first ones manufactured and sold came 18 years later. We haven't even settled on a technology that will supersede Li-ion yet, though we have some pretty good ideas.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (8) May 17, 2018
So many solutions and no actually hardware on the market. Sometimes I think I read too much science

DaSchneib is correct about the timeline.

Also there are things that work in the lab that don't work in real life
- because they don't scale
- because they aren't cheap enough to manufacture (no one will buy a good, but pricey product if the old one fulfills all use cases)
- because they don't integrate well with existing factory lines/procedures (no one wants to build new factories)
- because each batch takes too long to process
- because they have a hidden weakness like only working in a narrow temperature range or low moisture environment
- because the principle is patented by someone
- because the only companies that *could* manufacture them are already making max profits running their factories full tilt turning out the established technologies

... the list why some great stuff never makes it to market is almost endless
Whydening Gyre
1 / 5 (1) May 17, 2018
Notice the emphasis on "gyre-oidal"...:-)
Eikka
1 / 5 (1) May 20, 2018
because they have a hidden weakness like only working in a narrow temperature range or low moisture environment


The glaring weakness in this design is
1) extremely high power density
2) "defects like holes in the separator are what can lead to catastrophic failure giving rise to fires in mobile devices such as cellphones and laptops."

Point being, "defects" can be induced, like piercing the battery. The higher the power density, the more it shifts from "fire" to "explosion". If the battery can be charged as fast as plugging it in the wall, it can be discharged just as fast, dumping all the energy out as hot evaporating battery materials.

The device they're designing is a bomb. If it works as good as advertized, it's far too dangerous to use.

Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (2) May 20, 2018
If the battery can be charged as fast as plugging it in the wall, it can be discharged just as fast, dumping all the energy out as hot evaporating battery materials.

The device they're designing is a bomb. If it works as good as advertized, it's far too dangerous to use
erm... https://www.howto...explode/

https://www.lives...ode.html

once the technology has been developed, safety concerns will be addressed. Most of the big ones will be addressed before selling, but some safety concerns will likely only be raised after the technology goes into production and new, inventive ways to violate said battery is found by locals seeking the latest Darwin award

PTTG
5 / 5 (3) May 20, 2018
Eikka, you're going to have a fucking heart attack when you find out people have been driving around with gasoline in their cars.
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (2) May 20, 2018
@Eikka, mechanical damage involving punctures is very different from separator defects, and apparently you neglected to notice the part where they figured out how to prevent separator defects. This part:
These pores were then coated with a 10 nm-thick, electronically insulating but ion-conducting separator through electropolymerization, which *by the very nature of the process produced a pinhole-free separation layer*.
On Earth.

@Eikka hating on renewables again. And lying again.

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