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Eavesdropping on lithium ions | Science Codex

Lithium ion batteries are at the energetic heart of almost all things tech, from cell phones to tablets to electric vehicles. That’s because they are a proven technology, light, long-lasting and powerful. But they aren’t perfect.

“You might get seven or eight hours out of your iPhone on one charge, maybe a day,” says Reza Shahbazian-Yassar, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Michigan Technological University. “This is not enough for many of us. A fully electric car, like the Nissan Leaf, can go up to 100 miles on a single charge. To appeal to a mass market, it should be about 300 miles. We want to increase the power of these systems.”

To wring more power out of lithium ion batteries, scientists are experimenting with different materials and designs. However, the important action in a battery occurs at the atomic level, and it’s been virtually impossible to find out exactly what’s happening at such a scale. Now, Yassar has developed a device that allows researchers to eavesdrop on individual lithium ions—and potentially develop the next generation of batteries.

Batteries are pretty simple. They have three major components: an anode, a cathode and electrolyte between the two. In lithium batteries, lithium ions travel back and forth between the anode and cathode as the battery discharges and is charged up again. The anodes of lithium-ion batteries are usually made of graphite, but scientists are testing other materials to see if they can last longer.

“As soon as lithium moves into an electrode, it stresses the material, eventually resulting in failure,” said Yassar. “That’s why many of these materials may be able to hold lots of lithium, but they end up breaking down quickly.

“If we were able to observe these changes in the host electrode, particularly at the very early stage of charging, we could come up with strategies to fix that problem.”

More http://www.sciencecodex.com/eavesdropping_on_lithium_ions-115315

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