New materials are powering the battery revolution

Read the full story in The Conversation.

There are more mobile phones in the world than there are people. Nearly all of them are powered by rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, which are the single most important component enabling the portable electronics revolution of the past few decades. None of those devices would be attractive to users if they didn’t have enough power to last at least several hours, without being particularly heavy.

Lithium-ion batteries are also useful in larger applications, like electric vehicles and smart-grid energy storage systems. And researchers’ innovations in materials science, seeking to improve lithium-ion batteries, are paving the way for even more batteries with even better performance. There is already demand forming for high-capacity batteries that won’t catch fire or explode. And many people have dreamed of smaller, lighter batteries that charge in minutes – or even seconds – yet store enough energy to power a device for days.

Researchers like me, though, are thinking even more adventurously. Cars and grid-storage systems would be even better if they could be discharged and recharged tens of thousands of times over many years, or even decades. Maintenance crews and customers would love batteries that could monitor themselves and send alerts if they were damaged or no longer functioning at peak performance – or even were able to fix themselves. And it can’t be too much to dream of dual-purpose batteries integrated into the structure of an item, helping to shape the form of a smartphone, car or building while also powering its functions.

All that may become possible as my research and others’ help scientists and engineers become ever more adept at controlling and handling matter at the scale of individual atoms.

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