A group of researchers has discovered a way to use an unexpected material in next-generation batteries: wood. Brown University researchers created a tree-derived substance that can be utilized in solid-state batteries, which are safer and less harmful to the environment than conventional batteries.
Volatile liquids are utilized as electrolytes in today’s lithium-ion batteries, which are found in phones, computers, and electronic vehicles. These electrolytes transport lithium ions between a battery’s positive and negative electrodes. Liquid electrolytes perform well in this role, but they are poisonous and can be hazardous.
If there is a short circuit in the battery, for example, the liquid can combust and the battery can catch fire. This isn’t generally a problem in ordinary life, but it has resulted in the recall of some batteries that were produced wrongly.
To make batteries safer, researchers are working on solid-state batteries, which employ a solid material as an electrolyte instead of liquid. A solid, non-flammable material would be safer to use and potentially less harmful to the environment to make. The majority of current research into solid electrolytes has focused on ceramics, which conduct ions very well but are fragile and readily crack or break.
The Brown team created cellulose nanofibrils, a material that may be used as a solid electrolyte and is made of a combination of copper and polymer tubes generated from wood. The polymer material produced by the researchers is exceedingly thin and flexible, similar to a sheet of paper, making it easier to utilize in production. Despite this, its ion conductivity is comparable to that of thicker, more brittle materials such as ceramics.
“The lithium ions travel in our organic solid electrolyte via mechanisms seen in inorganic ceramics, enabling the record high ion conductivity,” said co-author Yue Qi, a professor at Brown’s School of Engineering, in a release.
“Using materials that nature offers will lessen the total environmental impact of battery manufacturing.”
The researchers expect that this advancement will contribute to the widespread availability of solid-state batteries, which would improve consumer electronics safety.