Powering Batteries in Harsh Environments

Researchers across the globe have been investing more and more effort into developing new materials to power the next generation of devices. With the population growing and energy demands rising, the need for smaller, faster, and more efficient batteries is more prevalent than ever.

While some researchers are attempting to develop complex material combinations to tackle this issue, researchers from Rice University are going back to basics by developing a clay-based electrolyte.

Utilizing clay as a primary material in a lithium ion battery could address current issues that the battery has with high temperature performance. With clay, the researchers were able to supply stable electrical power in environments with temperatures up 120°C. The addition of clay to the electrode could allow lithium ion batteries to function in harsh environments including space, defense, and oil and gas applications.

Achieving Higher Temperatures

“Clay naturally has a lot of moisture in it, and that’s not a problem when you’re doing supercapacitors,” said Kaushik Kalaga, lead author of the new study. “But a battery has to have a lithium-ion conductive species in the electrolyte to conduct lithium ions from the cathode or anode, or vice versa, when you charge and discharge. Lithium is very reactive with water, so our first challenge was to eliminate water from the clay while keeping its structure intact.”

Typically, electrodes cannot be used in batteries over 60°C. However, solid state electrodes allow for functioning at higher temperatures, but with lower performance levels. The new development looks to address and solve both high temperature performance and efficiency levels. Researchers observed that with the clay electrode, as the temperature rises, performance levels go up due to the clay’s viscosity decreasing while the consistency remains the same.

“There are many applications that need energy storage devices to work in extreme environments, and there needs to be innovation in the materials systems, particularly electrolytes, to expand the window of operation conditions,” said Pulickel Ajayan, co-author of the study. “Our lab is at the forefront of discoveries in this area.”

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