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Design Changes Can Enhance Battery Life, Says Study

9 February 2017, 8:00 pm EST By Kalyan Kumar Tech Times
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To mitigate the faster degradation of lithium ion batteries, researchers at the Northwestern University have advocated a computational design strategy that suggests the best coating materials for protecting the cathode from corrosion.   ( David Becker | Getty Images )

A cherished smartphone may turn into a frustration when the battery plays truant and performance is marred by poor battery life.

Ultimately, the failing battery makes using the device impractical and the problem gets compounded by the inability to pinpoint the specific cause of battery degradation as far as lithium ion batteries are concerned.

Now a new research has suggested battery life and capacity can be improved by making appropriate design changes.

According to Christopher Wolverton, professor of materials science at McCormick School of Engineering at Northwestern University, the reason for battery degradation is not fully known.

Computational Design Strategy

However, Wolverton suggests that it has much to do with the changes happening at the cathode.

To address the battery degradation, Wolverton has unveiled a computational design strategy that recommends usage of right compounds as a coating for the cathode in lithium-ion batteries.

The new method can help manufacturers choose the perfect cathode coating material for their lithium-ion batteries.

A protective coating goes a long way in checking the progressive corrosion of the cathode where the lithium ions are held. Within batteries, lithium ions ply between the cathode and the anode through an electrolyte.

Cathode Protection

The electrolyte's decomposition leads to the release of hydrofluoric acid, which is hyperactive and attacks the cathode, affecting battery power, said the researchers.

Wolverton said a coating will be deemed effective when it performs multiple functions. These include acting as a barrier around the cathode to resist attacks of hydrofluoric acid. It must also have the ability to react with the hydrofluoric acid in eliminating everything that might react with the cathode.

In selecting probable candidates as right cathode-coating materials, the researchers used the Open Quantum Materials Database developed earlier by Wolverton. It carries information on 470,000 compounds and is considered one of the largest downloadable materials databases.

Working with Wolverton is Muratahan Aykol, a former graduate student in Wolverton's laboratory and a postdoctoral fellow at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Aykol, the study's first author, said the database helped in using products with unexplored chemical reactions for assessing the effectiveness of coatings.

From a vast number of products, the team selected 30 materials and ranked them as probable for acting as buffers of the hydrofluoric acid that attacks the cathode. The Dow Chemical Company tested one of the products and endorsed that the coating is very effective in thwarting the degradation of the battery.

Advantage Of Computational Design

The new computational design strategy scores over many past methods that sought ideal cathode coatings. Earlier methods were hamstrung by the long-drawn, time-consuming trial-and-error process, which offers millions of possibilities when the combinations are tested experimentally.

The new method offers quick screening under a computational method with an effective screening of possible combinations. The team zeroed in on 25 compounds that were promising for experimental testing.

Wolverton also made clear that the design strategy is not exclusive for battery development but is in sync with the Materials Genome Initiative launched in 2011 during the Obama administration. The initiative aims to expedite the development of new and advanced materials.

The details of the study have been published in Nature Communications.

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