A team of researchers at the University of Southern California has developed a solution that averts the degradation of the structural integrity of li-ion batteries. This degradation is what causes the decline in the battery’s functionality over time.
The solution involves stretching battery elements to allow them to be cycled over and over without structural fatigue. The researchers’ paper was reported in the “Journal of Mechanics and Physics of Solids.”
In their paper, the researchers explain that a lithium-ion battery normally works through a repetitive cycle of extracting and inserting lithium ions from electrodes. This process compresses and expands the electrode lattice, while the shifts in volume create defects, fractures and micro-cracks over time, which in turn decreases battery capacity and causes structural degradation. In a media brief, the researchers stated that in the long run, batteries needed to be replaced as a result of the decrease in efficacy, which not only depleted the rare earth minerals used to make them but was also expensive.
Lead author of the paper Delin Zhang has studied the class of materials used as electrodes in li-ion batteries. These materials are known as intercalation materials. In the paper, Zhang states that stretching the intercalation electrodes prior to discharging and charging helps prevent degradation. He explains that this assists in the regulation of the phase transformation voltages, which in turn makes electrodes more resilient to losing their crystalline properties or fracturing.
Zhang added that stretching the electrodes ahead of time changed the energy landscape across which an electrode went to the discharged state, from the charged state. He also explained that the initial stress enabled the researchers to decrease the energy barrier for these transformations and hinder lattice deformations that caused material failure. Zhang noted that the change in the energy landscape is what helped prevent fractures and micro-cracks, protecting the energy storage capacity and sustainability of the battery. In addition to this, Zhang also noted that stretching the electrodes allowed the battery to operate in a wider voltage window, which made its capacity to store energy even more efficient.
The researchers believe their solution brings them closer to the development of more sustainable and safer batteries. Furthermore, they note that improving the lifespan of lithium-ion batteries would greatly benefit users of electric vehicles and electronic devices by reducing battery replacement and allowing devices to be used for longer periods of time, which would in turn help save resources and money over time.
The rapidly growing EV sector is likely to spur industrial as well as base metal producers such as First Energy Metals Ltd. (CSE: FE) (OTCQB: FEMFF) to look forward to an even brighter future than they had initially forecasted because the sheer number of EVs needed on the roads will take years to manufacture.
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