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Going Solid-State Could Make Batteries Safer and Longer-Lasting

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The crystal structure of a superionic conductor. The backbone of the material is a body-centred cubic-like arrangement of sulphur anions. Lithium atoms are depicted in green, sulfur atoms in yellow, PS4 tetrahedra in purple, and GeS4 tetrahedra in blue.

Researchers say they have developed a solution to the problem of lithium-ion batteries overheating and combustion that also would extend battery life.

Credit: Yan Wang

Although rare, the risk of overheating and combustion has remained one of the major drawbacks of lithium-ion batteries, which are now standard in most electronic devices and electric cars. However, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology, the University of California, San Diego, and the University of Maryland say they have developed a solution to the problem that also would extend battery life.

The solution involves replacing the liquid electrolytes used in lithium-ion batteries with a solid electrolyte. "All of the fires you've seen, with Boeing, Tesla, and others, they are all electrolyte fires," says MIT visiting professor Gerbrand Ceder. With a battery using a solid electrolyte, "there's no safety problem--you could throw it against the wall, drive a nail through it--there's nothing there to burn."

A "solid-state" electrolyte also does not degrade the same way liquid electrolytes do, which means batteries based on the technology would last longer. They also would perform at lower temperatures than current lithium-ion batteries (as cold as negative 20 degrees Fahrenheit), and offer a 20- to 30-percent improvement in power density.

The researchers focused on a class of materials known as superionic lithium-ion conductors, but they note the principles derived from their work could be used to develop even more effective materials.

From MIT News
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