Challenges in Designing New Batteries and Supercapacitators for a Low Carbon Economy

Prof Clare Grey

Cheaper and more efficient/effective ways to convert and store energy are required to reduce CO2 emissions. Batteries, supercapacitors and fuel cells will play an important role, but significant advances require that we understand how these devices operate over a wide range of time and lengthscales. The development of light, long-lasting rechargeable batteries has been an integral part of the portable electronics revolution. This revolution has transformed the way in which we communicate and transfer and access data globally, and has impacted developing nations as much as industrial societies. The invention of the lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery, a rechargeable battery in which lithium ions (Li+) shuttle between two materials (LiCoO2 and graphitic carbon) has been an integral part of these advances. Rechargeable batteries are now poised to play an increasingly important role in transport and grid applications, but the introduction of these devices comes with different sets of challenges. Importantly, fundamental science is key to producing non-incremental advances and to develop new strategies for energy storage and conversion. This talk will describe existing battery technologies and how they can be used to increase energy efficiency in transport and grid applications. I will then describe our work in the development of methods that allow devices to be probed while they are operating (i.e., in-situ). This allows, for example, the transformations of the various cell components to be followed under realistic conditions without having to disassemble and take apart the cell. To this end, the application of new in and ex-situ Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and X-ray diffraction approaches to correlate structure and dynamics with function in lithium-ion and lithium air batteries and supercapacitors will be described. The in-situ approach allows processes to be captured, which are very difficult to detect directly by ex-situ methods. For example, we can detect side reactions involving the electrolyte and the electrode materials, sorption processes at the electrolyte-electrode interface, and processes that occur during extremely fast charging and discharging.

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