Scientists may have figured out why batteries explode, and consequently may be able to design longer-lasting batteries as a result.
Scientists may have just figured out what causes batteries to blow up thanks to atomic-level images of what are known as dendrites, which are finger-like growths that can penetrate the barrier between battery compartments. It’s stunning finding that could help scientists design better batteries that could avoid such dangerous failures in the future, and last far longer than current batteries.
Dendrites are why it is tough to design batteries capable of storing more energy, so we can’t create better batteries for electric cars and devices that are able to work for longer without someone having to charge them at regular intervals. So researchers wanted to tackle the problem and began to examine the inner works of batteries with cryo-electron microscopy, also known as cryo-EM for short.
With the cyro-EM technique, scientists fire beams of electrons to figure out how the molecules are structured. The biomolecules are frozen to protect them from damage from the electron beams. The inventors of the technique, Jacques Dubochet, Joachim Frank, and Richard Henderson, won the 2017 Nobel Prize in chemistry for discovering it.
“This is super exciting and opens up amazing opportunities,” said Yi Cui, a professor at SLAC and Stanford and investigator with the Stanford Institute for Materials and Energy Sciences (SIMES) whose group did the research.
“With cryo-EM, you can look at a material that’s fragile and chemically unstable and you can preserve its pristine state – what it looks like in a real battery - and look at it under high resolution,” he said. “This includes all kinds of battery materials. The lithium metal we studied here is just one example, but it’s an exciting and very challenging one.”