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Scientists develop chocolate-inspired EV battery that could revolutionize the auto industry — here's how it works

"[They] are considered the holy grail of batteries because they have 10 times the capacity."

"[They] are considered the holy grail of batteries because they have 10 times the capacity."

Photo Credit: iStock

Scientists have developed a potentially revolutionary battery that could last over a decade with minimal charging time.

As explained in Tech Xplore, researchers from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) have created a new lithium metal battery that can be charged and discharged at least 6,000 times. Despite the lengthy life cycle, the battery only needs 10 minutes to be recharged.

The research, published in Nature Materials, explains the new way solid-state batteries can be made with a lithium metal anode and also includes details on the materials used to make them.

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"Lithium metal anode batteries are considered the holy grail of batteries because they have 10 times the capacity of commercial graphite anodes and could drastically increase the driving distance of electric vehicles," said Xin Li, associate professor of materials science at SEAS and senior author of the paper. "Our research is an important step toward more practical solid state batteries for industrial and commercial applications."

Lithium metal batteries offer the potential for higher energy density compared to traditional lithium-ion batteries, which would allow them to store more energy and potentially extend the range of EVs without increasing the size or weight of the battery.

However, designing lithium metal batteries commonly presents a challenge of dendrites forming on the surface of the anode. Tech Xplore explained that "these structures grow like roots into the electrolyte and pierce the barrier separating the anode and cathode, causing the battery to short or even catch fire." 

The new research revealed that Li and his team figured a way to stop dendrites from forming "by using micron-sized silicon particles in the anode to constrict the lithiation reaction and facilitate homogeneous plating of a thick layer of lithium metal." The design is significantly different from the chemistry of liquid lithium-ion batteries, where the silicon particles in the anode can be destroyed when the lithium ions penetrate through a deep lithiation reaction.

"In our design, lithium metal gets wrapped around the silicon particle, like a hard chocolate shell around a hazelnut core in a chocolate truffle," Li said.

Li and his team designed a postage stamp-sized pouch cell version of the battery that is 10 to 20 times larger than the coin cell commonly created in university labs. The battery retained 80% of its capacity after 6,000 cycles, vastly exceeding other pouch cell batteries available in today's market. 

The team's next goal is to scale up technology to build a smartphone-sized pouch cell battery.

The research also revealed dozens of other materials that could potentially yield similar performance in solid-state batteries.

"Previous research had found that other materials, including silver, could serve as good materials at the anode for solid state batteries," Li said. "Our research explains one possible underlying mechanism of the process and provides a pathway to identify new materials for battery design."

Iodine and zinc are viable alternatives to lithium. These new developments could also help reduce dependence on China for lithium, as the country is the world's third-largest lithium miner.

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