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A recent breakthrough may lead to enhanced safety and increased energy capacity in lithium-metal batteries, which possess twice the energy capacity of conventional lithium-ion batteries used in smartphones and electric vehicles.

Scientists developing lithium-metal batteries

Scientists from the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA are working on lithium-metal batteries, the predecessors of lithium-ion batteries. These batteries, despite their potential for better performance due to storing 10 times more lithium, have not been widely adopted due to a higher risk of combustion. The researchers aim to address this safety concern associated with lithium-metal batteries.

Applying lithium coating to batteries can lead to the creation of tiny filaments with protruding spikes, posing a risk of hazardous short circuits if these spikes intersect within the battery. The UCLA researchers discovered that preventing typical corrosion during lithium application leads to the formation of a distinctive 12-sided shape called a rhombic dodecahedron.

Yuzhang Li, the corresponding author and assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at UCLA, notes that existing descriptions of lithium metal structure are mostly qualitative, using terms like ‘chunky’ or ‘column-like.’

Li added that the discovery that inhibiting surface corrosion in lithium-metal batteries led to the formation of a specific polyhedron, aligning with theoretical predictions based on the metal’s crystal structure, challenges conventional notions and prompts a reconsideration of the understanding of these batteries.

Novel lithium accumulation pattern to enhance battery safety

Researchers have discovered a systematic lithium accumulation pattern that could enhance the safety of lithium-metal batteries by minimizing the risk of intersections and potential explosions. This finding suggests a safer alternative to the current lithium-metal battery design. The researchers are now exploring the implications of their discovery for future battery technologies. They are particularly interested in shaping lithium into cubes to improve battery safety and performance, considering the success in synthesizing other metals into various shapes over the past two decades.

The team employed cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) to observe the lithium’s shape at an atomic level, offering a significant advancement in battery technology. This breakthrough has the potential to revolutionize the industry by delivering safer and more efficient batteries in the imminent future.