Scientists seem to be getting their inspiration for innovative green ideas from all sorts of strange and unexpected sources nowadays. Biomimicry is of course the most common one, but already existing concepts and artificial products are doing the job just as well.
A team of scientists from Washington State University created a material that can once and for all solve the problem of leakage, and therefore safety, that conventional lithium-ion batteries have, and the idea for the invention came from a sticky chewing gum.
Although in the field of energy storage, various research teams and engineers have been trying to find alternative solutions, lithium-ion rechargeable batteries are still the leading technology, mainly because they have the highest capacity to preserve energy. No surprise that exactly this type of batteries is used virtually everywhere, from electronic devices, through renewable energy farms, all the way to electric transport. But everyone knows, that there is a danger associated with them, and more particularly, it is associated with the electrolyte, where ions move between the anode and cathode. Currently electrolytes contain liquid acid solutions, which are indeed highly conductive, but can also leak out and cause damage and fire.
This is where the work of Professor Katie Zhong comes in. She and her students, decided to look for materials, which act as liquid, but are not. As she describes it, she was looking for something sticky that will stay attached to the anode and cathode at all times, but it cannot leak out, just as a sticky chewing gum does when it attaches to a shoe.
The team then came up with a hybrid material, which is something between liquid and solid, still containing the liquid electrolyte to allow travelling of electrons, but also having solid wax particles to act as a form of protection. As temperature increases, the wax particle melt and stop the flow before any damage has occurred. As any other new invention, of course, the team also developed the material in a way that it could be used in light and flexible new electronics, but it can just as well be used in any existing battery technologies and designs. More technical details can be read in the publication that resulted from the study in the journal Advanced Energy Materials.
The electrolyte has only been tested in the lab, so the next step in front of the team, besides obtaining a patent for the technology, is to now see how this new material will do when placed inside real batteries. They are also collaborating closely with scientists from the Washington Research Foundation to develop much safer, very flexible and much cheaper batteries. Let’s hope the new technology hits the market soon, because it does sound great.
Image (c) Washington State University