A groundbreaking new finding could unlock the secret to creating better batteries that last longer and don't require as much charging.
A major discovery by scientists could have huge implications in the future for batteries, specifically allowing scientists to design ones that last much longer and are less susceptible to failure. By taking atomic-level images of dendrites, which are finger-like growths that break through the barrier of battery compartments and cause them to fail, they were able to figure out just why batteries today are so limited.
Dendrites prevent us from designing batteries that can keep powering everything from cars to phones for a long time, and because of them we have to recharge our batteries often. Researchers wanted to explore this problem and understand the inner works of batteries better, and why they aren’t able to last longer.
They used cryo-electron microscopy, or cryo-EM, to fire beams of electrons at frozen biomolecules. It’s a process that won three researchers the 2017 Nobel Prize. By employing this technique, they were able to see how the dendrites penetrated the barriers in the batteries, and this knowledge could help us design better batteries in the future and potentially change energy as we know it.
“This is super exciting and opens up amazing opportunities,” said Yi Cui, a professor at SLAC and Stanford and investigator with the Stanford Institute for Materials and Energy Sciences (SIMES) whose group did the research.
“With cryo-EM, you can look at a material that’s fragile and chemically unstable and you can preserve its pristine state – what it looks like in a real battery - and look at it under high resolution,” he said. “This includes all kinds of battery materials. The lithium metal we studied here is just one example, but it’s an exciting and very challenging one.”