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Next-Gen Batteries: Paving the Future of Energy Storage

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The widespread use of lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) in various applications, including consumer electronics, electric vehicles, and large-scale energy storage systems, has surged the demand for enhanced specific energy levels. Addressing this demand requires surpassing the limitations posed by current electrode materials. Lithium (Li) metal stands out as an ideal anode material due to its high theoretical specific capacity and exceptionally low reduction potential.

It offers potential advantages over the traditional graphite anode used in commercial LIBs with a specific capacity. However, the lithium metal anode encounters challenges such as volume fluctuations, dendrite growth, and undesirable side reactions with electrolytes, hampering its full potential.

The Central South University research team, in collaboration with the Australian Synchrotron, has pioneered a breakthrough method for scalable production of ultrathin, high-performance lithium anodes, meeting the burgeoning demand for advanced lithium-ion batteries in the quest for higher energy density and increased capacity.

Their strategy, outlined in a Nature Communications publication, integrates a specialised zinc additive, dialkyl dithiophosphate (ZDDP), which remarkably fortifies lithium metal strips. This innovation enhances mechanical strength, curbs lithium dendrite growth, and accelerates plating/stripping processes, offering superior cycling stability and electrochemical efficiency.

The team achieved remarkable advancements, producing lithium strips with thicknesses ranging from 5 to 50 micrometres, showcasing enhanced mechanical robustness, electrochemical performance, and outstanding cycling stability, surpassing untreated lithium counterparts. Notably, these ultrathin lithium strips demonstrated a cycle lifetime of up to 2800 hours at high area capacity, with a symmetrical cell enduring over 800 hours.

Their study extended to constructing a full cell configuration integrating LiFePO4 (LFP) with ZDDP-coated lithium, exhibiting exceptional cycling longevity with over 83.2% capacity retention post 350 cycles, markedly outperforming cells devoid of ZDDP. This heightened electrochemical performance is credited to the creation of a robust artificial solid electrolyte interface (SEI) layer, optimising lithium affinity.

Dr Bernt Johannessen, the instrument scientist, highlighted the groundbreaking development of micron-thick ultrathin lithium for solid-state batteries, employing a zinc-based oil during the roll-out process akin to pasta dough. Utilising the X-ray absorption spectroscopy beamline at the synchrotron, Dr Johannessen conducted crucial measurements, pivotal in investigating energy materials and catalysis. The beamline’s efficiency is evidenced by its doubled publication output in 2023, a testament to advancements like fast scanning techniques.

Acknowledging the research’s collaborative nature, Dr Johannessen emphasised the community’s productivity and utilisation of cutting-edge beamline developments. Dr Zhibin Wu, a significant contributor and AINSE Postgraduate Research Award recipient, collaborated closely with Dr Johannessen during his PhD at the University of Wollongong.

SEM image of nanoporous polymer-coated lithium, Image credits: Monash University

In a similar development, Monash University researchers, led by Declan McNamara and Professors Hill and Majumder, along with Dr Shaibani from RMIT University, pioneered a lithium-sulphur battery design with a nanoporous polymer-coated lithium foil anode. This breakthrough promises heightened energy capacity, durability, and reduced lithium consumption, marking a significant leap in sustainable energy storage solutions amid the global push for renewable energy.

Lithium-sulphur batteries represent a promising alternative energy storage option, leveraging metallic lithium and sulphur to achieve higher energy output per gram than conventional lithium-ion batteries. While Li-S batteries exhibit exceptional efficiency, the lithium sourcing process raises environmental concerns, emphasising the importance of minimising lithium usage.

The standard structure of Li-S batteries involves a lithium anode and sulphur cathode separated by a layer, but this setup strains the lithium metal during charging and discharging. Declan McNamara found that a super-thin polymer coating significantly boosts the battery’s cycling capability by featuring minuscule nanopores that enable lithium-ion movement while shielding it from harmful substances.

This coating acts as support, enhancing lithium’s charge and discharge abilities, improving battery performance, and sidestepping the need for nickel or cobalt, minimising environmental impacts.

Professor Mainak Majumder envisions these breakthroughs paving the way for robust and sustainable battery solutions. Professor Matthew Hill aims to translate this innovation into practical use, particularly in the rapidly growing market for electric vehicles and electronics. Collaborating with industry partners, they aim to commercialise this eco-friendly and cost-effective battery technology.


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