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High-energy-density lithium batteries enabled by a nanoscale hybrid electrolyte


Working with a team of interdisciplinary engineers and scientists at Cornell University, NSF-funded IGERT Fellow Jennifer Nugent and Prof. Lynden Archer have developed a new class of mechanically-tunable electrolytes based on nanoscale organic hybrid materials (NOHMs). Created by densely grafting short lithium-conducting polymers (telomers) to the surface of inorganic nanostructures, NOHMs are the first example of an organic-inorganic hybrid material where each and every nanoscale building block is itself a hybrid. When close packed, these materials spontaneously form homogeneous jammed electrolytes with solid-like mechanical properties, yet allow for fast, efficient transport of ions and energy delivery from the battery. Astoundingly, when pushed hard enough, these materials flow like liquids and thus may be processed cost effectively using conventional techniques.

Advances in many areas of technology such as portable electronics, electric vehicles, and electric energy conversion from intermittent sources, such as solar and wind farms, are limited by current technologies for electric energy storage. Batteries are devices that store electricity in a chemical reaction. When a battery is charged, electrical energy is used to drive a chemical reaction. As the battery discharges, the stored energy is released from the chemical reaction in the form of a continuous current which powers an external circuit. The rate at which a battery can deliver its stored energy depends on the speed with which ions move through the electrolyte in the battery.

Lithium is the lightest and the most electropositive metal anode, thereby allowing for high voltage and energy dense battery configurations that store ten times the electricity of today?s commercial lithium-ion batteries. However, rechargeable batteries employing lithium metal anodes are a safety concern. The use of a nonvolatile, mechanically robust electrolyte to separate the lithium anode from the cathode can mitigate this concern. The path towards such electrolytes is challenging because of the competing requirements for high ionic speeds and mechanical robustness.

Nugent, J. L., Moganty, S. S., & Archer, L. A. (2010). Nanoscale organic hybrid electrolytes. Advanced Materials: 22, 3677-3680.

Address Goals

This research will enable the production of lithium ion batteries with better performance than currently available. This project also helped educate the next generation of scientists and engineers capable of producing materials for a sustainable future.