Researchers in US developing new technology for fast charging batteries
Researchers led by the US Department of Energy's (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, are developing a new technology for fast charging lithium-ion batteries, Brookhaven National Laboratory announced in a press release earlier in March. The team of researchers have captured in real-time how lithium ions move in lithium titanate (LTO), a fast-charging battery electrode material made of lithium, titanium, and oxygen. They discovered that distorted arrangements of lithium and surrounding atoms in LTO "intermediates" (structures of LTO with a lithium concentration in between that of its initial and end states) provide an "express lane" for the transport of lithium ions. The new insight could help in developing improved battery materials for the rapid charging of electric vehicles (EV) and portable consumer electronics.
"Consider that it only takes a few minutes to fill up the gas tank of a car but a few hours to charge the battery of an electric vehicle. Figuring out how to make lithium ions move faster in electrode materials is a big deal, as it may help us build better batteries with greatly reduced charging time," said co-corresponding author Feng Wang, a materials scientist in Brookhaven Lab's Interdisciplinary Sciences Department.
Significance: High charging times is seen as one of the major bottlenecks hindering the mass adoption of EVs in most automotive markets around the world. Faster charging lithium-ion batteries, which could be comparable to conventional vehicles could lower the uptake barrier for many buyers. According to the researchers, lithium-ion batteries work by shuffling lithium ions between a positive and negative electrode (cathode and anode) through a chemical medium called an electrolyte. Graphite is commonly employed as the anode in state-of-the-art lithium-ion batteries, but for fast-charging applications, LTO is an appealing alternative. LTO can accommodate lithium ions rapidly, without suffering from lithium plating.
Lithium ions are light, making them elusive to traditional electron- or x-ray-based probing techniques—especially when the ions are shuffling rapidly within active materials, such as LTO nanoparticles in an operating battery electrode. In this study, the scientists were able to track the migration of lithium ions in LTO nanoparticles in real time by designing an electrochemical cell to operate inside a transmission electron microscope (TEM). Next, the scientists will explore the limitations of LTO—such as heat generation and capacity loss associated with cycling at high rates—for real applications.
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