Any breakthroughs in battery technology could help pave the way to a better future of renewable energy, so it is with excitement that we share news out of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL).
Researchers at PNNL have found a way to better see how electricity flows, especially how the coating that develops at the layer between the electrode and the electrolyte impedes the flow of electrons, reducing battery performance. The technique they are using, transmission electron microscopy, has been used by life scientists to study the wet environments inside of cells. According to Chongmin Wang of PNNL:
The liquid cell gave us global information about how the electrodes behave in a battery environment. And it will help us find the solid electrolyte layer. It has been hard to directly visualize in sufficient detail.
When electrons flood into the electrode during charging, positive ions such as lithium ions must meet them at the layer between the solid electrode and the surrounding electrolyte solution. This means the ions must move through pores in the electrode, resulting in a sort of log-jam in that surface layer, which can even be observed as swelling. Understanding how this swelling affects performance and how it evolves over repeated charges could be key to improving efficiency.
Better rechargeable batteries avoid the large numbers of waste single-use batteries, which still sufficiently out-perform the greener options to remain a formidable force in the portable power market. More importantly, high performance rechargeables are key to the success of an infrastructure that relies on renewable power rather than fossil fuels. We look forward to the developments this new method of investigating battery performance promises.