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Car Batteries of Future to Benefit from Nanotech

Future fleets of electric vehicles will require high-capacity batteries that recharge rapidly, degrade very little over time, and operate safely. Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries—similar to the ones found inside portable electronics—currently lead the charge, but not without significant problems.

“Issues related to cost, power, energy density, and durability of Li-ion batteries have slowed their implementation in large-scale applications, such as electric and hybrid vehicles,” says Ruigang Zhang, a Toyota Motor Corp. scientist specializing in energy storage technology. “A rechargeable magnesium (Mg) battery system is one interesting candidate that offers much greater earth abundance than lithium and higher storage capacity—but the necessary research remains a challenge.”

To probe molecular structures and track the rapid chemical reactions in these promising batteries, Zhang and colleagues turned to the Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN) at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory.

“CFN possesses a full suite of powerful observational and analytical instruments,” says scientist Feng Wang of Brookhaven Lab’s Sustainable Energy Technologies Department, who will lead the collaboration with Zhang’s team at CFN. “With our newly developed imaging techniques, we are able to track the magnesium reactions in real time with nanoscale resolution, letting us understand how and why structural disorder emerges and impacts performance. And it is personally exciting to analyze and optimize materials that may one day make transportation more sustainable.”

In rechargeable batteries, ions are shuttled back and forth between the oppositely charged anode and cathode—flow in one direction generates electricity (discharge), while applying external voltage causes flow in the other (charge). Magnesium ions carry twice the intrinsic charge of lithium ions, meaning they store and deliver more energy. But as those ions move during each cycle, the billionth-of-a-meter structure of the battery material degrades and transforms.

The degradation rates and patterns—whether uniform or asymmetrical—must be probed in a variety of conditions to understand the underlying mechanisms. Once pinpointed, scientists can then design new atomic architectures or customized compounds that overcome these obstacles to extend battery lifetimes and optimize performance.

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Car Batteries of Future to Benefit from Nanotech Reviewed by Brandon on 4:59 PM Rating: 5

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