While improvements in silicon have made hardware more energy-efficient than ever, battery innovation has lagged behind, despite various efforts to make them store more charge and charge faster, also more safer and more durable.
Researchers at Cornell University believe they have found a solution for an issue that has been a gigantic bump in the road for lithium metal batteries. Using lithium as a part of the anode has been shown to result in a tenfold increase in capacity for every gram when compared to typical lithium ion batteries (up to 3860 mAh/g vs 380 mAh/g), a major improvement no matter how you look at it.
The issue with lithium metal batteries is that the lithium in the anode is so reactive that, when you recharge the battery, it will form dendrites (or tree-like bumps) that eventually extend through the electrolyte all the way to the cathode, effectively causing a short-circuit which can lead to thermal runaway and some really terrifying safety hazards.
While other researchers have tried using a ceramic membrane as a barrier for lithium dendrite growth, this degrades the performance and requires high temperatures (300-400 degrees Celsius) to work reliably, and that is not precisely suitable for use in your next iPhone.
Chemical and biomolecular engineering professor Lynden Archer’s team has made another membrane “by grafting polyethylene oxide onto silica to frame nanoscale organic hybrid materials” – “hairy” nanoparticles that can effectively stop dendrite growth at room temperature.
The researchers claim that this solution does not require a radical redesign in battery innovation, and can be “as effective as batteries based on other metals, for example, sodium and aluminum, that are more earth-abundant and less expensive than lithium and also restricted by dendrites.”
If you want a more in-depth reading, you can check the original paper published on Nature Communications.