Lithium ion batteries (LIBs) are a huge technological advancement from lead acid batteries which have existed since the late 1850's. Thanks to their low weight, high energy density and slower loss of charge when not in use, LIBs have become the preferred choice for consumer electronics. Lithium-ion cells with cobalt cathodes hold twice the energy of a nickel-based battery and four-times that of lead acid. Despite being a superior consumer battery, LIBs still have some drawbacks. Current manufacturing technology is reaching the theoretical energy density limit for LIBs and overheating leading to thermal runaway i.e. "venting with flame" is a serious concern.
The new battery is built from pumpkin-shaped molecules called cucurbituril (CB) which are organized in a honeycomb-like structure. The molecules have an incredibly thin 1D-channel, only averaging 7.5 Å [a single lithium ion is 0.76 Å, or .76 x 10-10 m] that runs through them. The physical structure of the porous CB enables the lithium ions to battery to diffuse more freely than in conventional LIBs and exist without the separators found in other batteries.
In tests, the porous CB solid electrolytes showed impressive lithium ion conductivity. To compare this to existing battery electrolytes, the team used a measurement of the lithium transference number (tLi+) which was recorded at 0.7-0.8 compared to 0.2-0.5 of existing electrolytes. They also subjected the batteries to extreme temperatures of up to 373 K (99.85° C), well above the 80° C typical upper temperature window for exiting LIBs. In the tests, the batteries were cycled at temperatures between 298 K and 373 K ( 24.85° C and 99.85° C) for a duration of four days and after each cycle the results showed no thermal runaway and hardly any change in conductivity.
Various conventional liquid electrolytes can incorporate in a porous CB framework and converted to safer solid lithium electrolytes. Additionally, electrolyte usage is not limited to use only in LIBs, but a lithium air battery potentially feasible. What makes this new technique most exciting is that it is a new method of preparing a solid lithium electrolyte which starts as a liquid but no post-synthetic modification or chemical treatment is needed.
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