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Dual-functioning electrolyte improves capacity of long-life batteries

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May 4, 2014

A new type of dual-functioning electrolyte developed at ORNL could result in an improved capacity for long-life batteries (Photo: Shutterstock)

A new type of dual-functioning electrolyte developed at ORNL could result in an improved capacity for long-life batteries (Photo: Shutterstock)

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The three main components of a battery's makeup: the anode, cathode and the ion-conducting electrolyte, have been long understood to serve separate, independent functions. A team of researchers at the US Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) is seeking to challenge this theory, experimenting with a dual functioning electrolyte that supplements the cathode to significantly improve the capacity and longevity of long-life batteries.

In testing the effectiveness of its newly-developed electrolyte, the team worked with a lithium carbon fluoride battery, deemed an ideal test subject for its long life, high energy density and stability. By incorporating a solid lithium thiophosphate electrolyte, the team created a battery chemistry wherein the electrolyte and the cathode worked in cooperation, resulting in a battery capacity 26 percent higher than if they were to function independently.

"As the battery discharges, it generates a lithium fluoride salt that further catalyzes the electrochemical activity of the electrolyte," says Chengdu Liang, Staff Scientist at ORNL and one of the study's authors. "This relationship converts the electrolyte, conventionally an inactive component in capacity, to an active one."

According to the researchers, this new form of cooperative chemistry could add years or even decades to the life of such batteries. The findings hold promise for any application where recharging or replacing a long-life battery can be problematic, such as in pacemakers, keyless systems or remote sensors.

“If you have a pacemaker, you don’t want to undergo surgery every 10 years to replace the battery,” Liang says. “What if a battery could last 30 to 50 years? Our fundamental research is opening up that possibility through a new design mechanism.”

The team's findings were published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Source: Oak Ridge National Laboratory

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About the Author
Nick Lavars Nick was born outside of Melbourne, Australia, with a general curiosity that has drawn him to some distant (and very cold) places. Somewhere between enduring a winter in the Canadian Rockies and trekking through Chilean Patagonia, he graduated from university and pursued a career in journalism. Having worked for publications such as The Santiago Times and The Conversation, he now writes for Gizmag from Melbourne, excited by tech and all forms of innovation, the city's bizarre weather and curried egg sandwiches. All articles by Nick Lavars
5 Comments

Having batteries that last longer means fewer of them in landfills and not having to worry about the batteries in ones flahslights and other devices that one use.

BigGoofyGuy

Absolutely brilliant and long overdue. Kudos.

Mirmillion

What does the sentence,

"...wherein the electrolyte and the cathode worked in cooperation..."

actually mean?

Plus ten points for highlighting the idea to the world, but minus 1000 points for explaining it really badly...

Xolin

"...the anode, cathode and the ion-conducting electrolyte, have been long understood to serve separate, independent functions..."

isn't correct: The anode and cathode do not have "...separate, independent functions...", they are simply different potential points in the battery serving as positive and negative ELECTRODES, which they both are.

And the electrolyte is the CONDUCTOR between the ELECTRODES; it certainly does not (and cannot) serve a "...separate, independent function...": it is intrinsic to the operation of the battery.

Please, if the author doesn't understand basic electrical technology, please get him to consult someone who does.

Xolin

They've just invented the dilithium crystal, as seen on Star Trek...

James Donohue
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