The search for a better EV battery

by Ernie Hernandez on July 11, 2013

Battery assembly

More nano level experimentation shows path to improvement

An associate professor at the Michigan Technological University is not satisfied with his mobile phone battery life, and he would like to see electric vehicles (EVs) travel further on a single charge. Fortunately, he is in a position to be able to do something about it.

Reza Shahbazian-Yassar is looking at lithium ion batteries at the nano level, but he has a powerful tool on his side. Observing lithium behavior at the atomic level was not possible in the not too distant past. The University of Illinois at Chicago however, has an aberration corrected scanning transmission electron microscope (AC-STEM). This microscope allows Yassar’s team to see what hasn’t been seen before. This prompted the use of a different anode material – tin oxide (SnO2).

“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.

“We wanted to monitor the changes in the tin oxide at the very frontier of lithium-ion movement within the SnO2 electrode, and we did,” Yassar said. “We were able to observe how the individual lithium ions enter the electrode.”

With the ability to watch how the electrons enter the electrode, the team was able to determine the strain placed being placed on the electrode by the lithium ions.

“It’s very exciting,” Yassar said. “There are so many options for electrodes, and now we have this new tool that can tell us exactly what’s happening with them. Before, we couldn’t see what was going on; we were just guessing.”

While we see periodic announcements regarding potential for lithium ion battery improvement, we are particularly intrigued with the potential that this development provides.

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