Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology may have found a promising alternative to conventional lithium-ion battery electrolyte made from synthetic rubber.
The team found that when elastomer was formulated into a 3D structure it allowed faster lithium ion transport due to its mechanical toughness, which resulted in high ionic conductivity, superior mechanical properties and electrochemical stability.
Elastomers are widely used in consumer products and advanced technologies because of their beneficial mechanical properties.
The key breakthrough was allowing the material to form a three-dimensional interconnected plastic crystal phase within the rubber matrix.
The research, conducted in collaboration with the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), was published in the journal Nature.
SK Innovation is funding additional research of the electrolyte material as part of its ongoing collaboration with KAIST to build next-generation solid-state batteries that are safer and more energy dense lithium-ion batteries.
Improving battery performance
The rubber electrolyte can be made using a simple polymerization process at low temperature conditions, which generates smooth interfaces on the surface of electrodes, say the team.
Michael Lee, a mechanical engineering graduate researcher, said: “By increasing specific energy and energy density of these batteries, you can increase the mileage of the EV.
“Rubber has been used everywhere because of its high mechanical properties, and it will allow us to make cheap, more reliable and safer batteries.”
The researchers are now looking at ways to improve the battery performance by increasing its cycle time and decreasing the charging time through better ionic conductivity.
So far, their efforts have seen a two-time improvement in the battery’s performance/cycle time.
Solid polymer electrolytes continue to attract great interest because of their low manufacturing cost, non-toxicity and soft nature.
However, conventional polymer electrolytes do not have sufficient ionic conductivity and mechanical stability for reliable operation of solid-state batteries.
Image: Professor Seung Woo Lee (left) and Michael J. Lee have demonstrated a more cost-effective, safer solid polymer electrolyte (rubber material) for all-solid-state batteries. (Photo credit: Georgia Tech)