A team of researchers at US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have challenged a long-held assumption that a battery’s three main components – the positive cathode, negative anode and ion-conducting electrolyte – can play only one role each in the device.
As per the study that has been published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, the electrolyte in the team’s new battery design has dual functions: it serves not only as an ion conductor but also as a cathode supplement.
“This bi-functional electrolyte revolutionises the concept of conventional batteries and opens a new avenue for the design of batteries with unprecedented energy density,” said ORNL’s Chengdu Liang.
The team has successfully shown the concept in a lithium carbon fluoride battery, which is one of the best single-use batteries because of its high energy density, stability and long shelf life.
When ORNL researchers incorporated a solid lithium thiophosphate electrolyte, the battery generated a 26 percent higher capacity than what would be its theoretical maximum if each component acted independently.
The increase, said Liang, is caused by the cooperative interactions between the electrolyte and cathode.
“As the battery discharges, it generates a lithium fluoride salt that further catalyses the electrochemical activity of the electrolyte,” said Liang. “This relationship converts the electrolyte – conventionally an inactive component in capacity – to an active one,” he said.
“If you have a pacemaker, you don’t want to undergo surgery every 10 years to replace the battery,” Liang said.
“What if a battery could last 30 to 50 years? Our fundamental research is opening up that possibility through a new design mechanism,” Liang added.
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