The development of solid-state batteries with a solid electrolyte is going through a huge boom. But some problems need to be solved before they go full mainstream.
Storing electric energy is an age-old problem that is only getting more relevant with the rise of electric cars. But also small mobile devices like laptops and smartphones need good high capacity batteries. And the batteries we use currently have a problem with their lifespan and the possibility of them self-igniting.
Luckily, we have a solution. Solid-state batteries. These batteries don't use a liquid electrolyte as current batteries do. Instead, they use solid electrolytes – thus solid-state batteries. The benefits of solid electrolytes are numerous. Liquid electrolyte is flammable and allows dendrites to easily appear. A solid electrolyte prevents this.
Most scientific teams use ceramic-based electrolyte which is solid, capable of transferring lithium ions and prevent dendrites from forming as easily. But it has its own problems. It is very fragile and thus it comes with the risk of breaking both during manufacture and in use.
Scientists from Brown University in Rhode Island decided to take a look at this problem. But instead of focusing on the chemical properties of the electrolyte (as most scientists do), they decided to focus on the mechanical properties of the electrolyte.
Christos Athanasiou and his team figured out that the properties of the ceramic material can get substantially better when a bit of graphene is added. You just need to be very precise with how much graphene you use. If there is too little of it, the durability of the electrolyte doesn't improve. But if there is too much of it, it itself becomes conductive instead of just transferring the ions.
But the scientists found that if they add just the right amount it still retains its properties needed to function as an electrolyte while improving the electrolyte's durability substantially. In fact, the electrolyte with added graphene is twice as durable. On top of that, whenever if a crack appears the graphene can “hold” the crack.
What needs to be said is that this is still only research. It may take decades before the material (or its cousins) gets used in commercial products. But, we hope to see solid-state batteries in electric cars in this decade.
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