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Breakthrough allows for dramatically better batteries with one change, researchers say

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

A new battery breakthrough could allow for dramatically faster charging and better performance at low temperatures, according to the engineers who made it.

A new material made up of small molecules could be included in batteries to allow them to perform dramatically better: charging up much more quickly and working even at extreme temperatures, all the way down to -80 degrees Celsius.

Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries have allowed for many of the technological breakthroughs that surround us today, from phones to electric cars, and are expected to be a key part of the sustainable future. But current technology is limited in its power and speed of charging – as well as only being able to operate within a limited range of temperatures.

Many of the attempts to solve that problem run into their own issues. Some offer faster charging but rapidly break down and so have a shortened life cycle, for instance.

In the new research, however, scientists suggest using organic solvents to upgrade the electrolyte in the battery. Changing that solvent to a material known as fluoroacetonitrile, made up of small molecules, appears to dramatically improve how they operate.

That electrolyte is a key part of how lithium batteries work: they are akin to the “blood” of the battery, allowing the important ions to move between electrodes. It allows the battery to convert the energy stored inside of it into useable electrical energy – providing it to a car or a phone, for instance.

As such, much research on batteries looks at alternative solvents that could fix some of the issues with existing batteries. Most lithium batteries of the kind that are commonly used in a variety of applications use a lithium salt solution, but researchers believe that trying different options could improve batteries’ performance.

The new research “opens up avenues of research for developing the next generation of lithium-ion batteries”, according to an article written by researchers away from the breakthrough. What’s more, the breakthrough could allow for new kinds of energy-storage systems unlike our current lithium-based technology, relying instead on sodium, potassium and other kinds of ions.

The work is described in a new paper, ‘Ligand-channel-enabled ultrafast Li-ion conduction’, published in Nature.