Learning to Design Ion Channels for Future Batteries
For decades, lithium has been a go-to material for batteries, because such batteries can store significant amounts of energy and can be recharged. Lithium ion batteries do have issues though, not least of which is that they can burst into flames when they overheat. One way to solve this problem is to change materials, potentially to a plastic, but that has its own challenges. Now researchers at Northwestern University have made a discovery that could lead to better polymer-based batteries in the future.
Block copolymers (BCPs) are a family of polymers that are actually comprised of two other polymers, stuck together. As they are already able to act as ion conductors, can self-assemble, and maintain integrity, researchers have been looking to them for future batteries. The problem has been with how BCPs and the nano-channels they have behave when ions pass through them. The Northwestern researchers had to combine two other theories to determine what happens. One theory considers how atomic structures change in response to ions and counter-ions, while the other theory looks at how long molecules, like BCPs, behave. The combination should allow BCPs to be designed with nano-channels ideal for use in batteries.
Armed with this tool, researchers may be able to build plastic batteries that will match the power of modern lithium-ion batteries without the risk of explosion.
Source: Northwestern University