Manufacturing News

Scientists close in on finding key ingredient for next-gen lithium batteries


 RMIT researchers have used supercomputers to speed up the search for a key ingredient in the next generation of lithium-metal batteries.

The team, led by RMIT University, in collaboration with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), say the work could potentially increase storage capacity by 10-fold compared with today’s technology.

Senior lead researcher Michelle Spencer, a professor of Chemistry and deputy director of RMIT’s STEM Centre for Digital Innovation, said the team used supercomputers to develop an ultra-fast way to screen hundreds of potential molecules that could make suitable electrolytes for lithium-metal batteries.

“This work could benefit anyone wanting to use electronic devices, such as mobile phones and laptops, or electrified transportation like electric cars and future electric planes for commercial air travel,” Spencer explained.

“Our work is only a small component of the large body of work being done in the rechargeable battery space, and electric flight for large-scale domestic and international travel is still a long way off.”

According to Spencer, despite rapid advancements, lithium-ion batteries still face several challenges related to the stability of the electrolyte.

“Organic-based electrolytes used in lithium-ion batteries are not compatible with batteries using lithium-metal as the anode, as they tend to decompose when exposed to the metal,” she said.

The research, which also involved RMIT PhD scholar Dale Osborne and CSIRO scientists Dr Michael Breedon and Dr Thomas Rüther, is published in the Journal of Materials Chemistry A.

Osborne said the team can identify specific features or molecules that might perform better and recommend them to experimental groups to test in the lab.

“The computational approach we’ve developed dramatically speeds up the screening process, which would traditionally be prohibitively expensive and time consuming if each candidate molecule were to be experimentally synthesised and tested in the lab,” Osborne added.

Next steps

The team is investigating further modifications of the electrolyte molecules that might widen their electrochemical stability, pushing the boundaries of battery storage capacity.

The researchers use supercomputing facilities at the National Computational Infrastructure (NCI) facility in Canberra and the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre in Western Australia.

“We are also using RMIT’s RACE Hub to analyse our data and produce high-resolution animations that help us to interpret our data and communicate our research findings,” Spencer said.

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