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Removing obstacles to greener, cost effective, polymer batteries

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Deakin University researchers could help address a major obstacle for developing environmentally friendly, cost effective, polymer-based batteries. 

Researchers at Deakin’s Institute for Frontier Materials (IFM) used computer modelling and simulations to design a new type of solid-state polymer electrolyte, showing its potential use in various types of polymer-based solid-state batteries, particularly sodium and potassium batteries. 

Polymer-based batteries can support high-energy density metals in an all-solid-state battery. 

By using polymer as the ion conductor rather than the flammable organic liquid solvents in current lithium-ion batteries, the energy storage is greener, safer, and less expensive. 

Lead researcher, Dr Fangfang Chen, said the team used a cost-effective, computer-to-lab material design strategy, applying modelling and simulations to find the best compositions for polymer electrolytes.  

“This work has been devoted to developing new polymer electrolyte chemistries that can be used with high-energy metals that are more abundant and less expensive than lithium, such as sodium and potassium,” Chen said. 

“The new materials can contribute to a more sustainable, greener future battery technology, as well as providing society with safer, high-performance energy storage devices.” 

Alfred Deakin Professor Maria Forsyth said the work expands upon current knowledge of these new electrolyte systems. 

“Lithium-based technology is expensive, in-demand and increasingly scarce, so breakthroughs that provide alternative, inexpensive, and safe energy storage options are of major significance,” Forsyth said. 

“We can now offer an alternative path to realising polymer-based solid-state batteries. This is a significant milestone, and this process will act as a design criterion for further development in this field of research.” 

The research is the second significant finding published by IFM researchers in the prestigious journal Nature Materials. 

In July, a team led by Dr Xiaoen Wang and Professor Forsyth developed a solid polymer electrolyte material that can replace the flammable liquid solvents currently used in sodium batteries. 

The newest breakthrough demonstrates how computer-to-lab research is a cost-effective way to drive new discovery for advanced batteries, which are much needed for energy-hungry applications. 

Forsyth said the back-to-back discoveries have designed two effective, efficient polymer electrolytes from ‘different angles.’ 

“This reflects IFM’s leading position in the field of polymer electrolytes,” she said. 

Deakin is currently establishing a $9.5 million facility at Melbourne’s Burwood campus, which will expand already extensive research into sodium and lithium batteries. 

The Battery Technology Research and Innovation Hub (BatTRI-Hub) upgrade will include a testing lab and pilot production line to research and manufacture advanced lithium and sodium batteries. 

The expansion project includes a $5.2 million contribution from the Victorian government via the Victorian Higher Education State Investment Fund (VHESIF). 

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