Science goal to double battery life in electric vehicles

DATE 02nd December 2015


Using a super-powerful electron microscope that can pinpoint single atoms a million times smaller than a human hair, researchers have now identified the structure of lithium-and manganese-rich transition metal oxides.

These materials can potentially be used to make batteries with capacities double that of the most commonly used Lithium-ion batteries which, despite being important sources for energy storage for consumer electronics and transportation, have not caught up with the demand for the world’s energy consumption over the last couple of decades.

The research was carried out in large parts at the SuperSTEM National Facility, which is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and located at the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC) Daresbury Laboratory, at Sci-Tech Daresbury in Cheshire. SuperSTEM National Facility is home to a super-powerful electron microscope that is one of only three in the world.

Professor Quentin Ramasse, Director at SuperSTEM, said:

“This research, which solves a decade-long debate about the structure of lithium-and manganese-rich transition metal oxides, could mean that the battery life in electric cars will last considerably longer in the very near future: longer range, more convenience, all should contribute to more of those green vehicles on the road and a significant contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. We need to know what goes on at the atomic scale in order to understand the macroscopic behaviour of such new emerging materials and the advanced electron microscopes available at national facilities such as SuperSTEM are essential in making sure their potential is fully realised.”

Previous studies about this material have been ambiguous, but using the state-of-the-art electron microscopy techniques atSuperSTEM and at Berkeley Lab’s National Center for Electron Microscopy, the researchers successfully imaged the material one atom a time, from all possible directions, to gather the three-dimensional information needed to solve the material’s structure.

Alpesh Khushalchand Shukla from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in the United States is lead author of the paper and a visiting research associate at SuperSTEM. He said:

“In spite of its increased capacity, the battery industry has so far been reluctant to introduce this new chemistry for commercial applications due to practical issues such as voltage and capacity fade or DC resistance rise. By solving the surface and bulk structure of this material, we have inched closer to mitigating these issues”

The results of this research, which was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, have been published in Nature Communications.