Photograph of the new transparent, thin-film FS-LiPON material

Scientists design ‘game-changing’ batteries that work without external pressure

Image credit: UC San Diego Laboratory for Energy Storage and Conversion / Diyi Cheng

A team at the University of California San Diego and the University of Chicago has engineered a new material that could be used to create lithium batteries that work with zero external pressure.

The team has been able to create a stand-alone thin-film version of lithium phosphorus oxynitride (LiPON), a solid-state electrolyte. 

The free-standing versions of LiPON (FS-LiPON) film underwent several functional battery tests that showed it was able to promote a uniformly dense lithium metal electrochemical deposition under zero external pressure. 

Lithium metal batteries have been a topic of interest for many years due to their high energy density. However, their practical application has been limited due to safety concerns and lithium’s tendency to form dendrites, which can cause short circuits and reduce the battery’s lifespan.

LiPON has been described as “potentially game-changing” as it could allow for the development of a new type of lithium metal battery that functions with minimal external pressure, reducing the risk of dendrite formation and improving performance.

LiPON was originally developed by a group of scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in 1992. Until now, it had been very difficult to produce and research, so was not widely tested for the purpose of battery production. 

However, the researchers have been able to develop a new approach to the electrolyte using a thin, flexible membrane made of a polymer called polyethylene oxide (PEO).

The PEO membrane allows lithium ions to pass through while blocking dendrite formation. It can also withstand high temperatures, making it suitable for use in high-performance batteries. This is important because lithium metal batteries have the potential to store more energy than current lithium-ion batteries, but require higher operating temperatures.

LiPON-based thin-film batteries have many applications across various fields, such as wearables and other compact electronic devices. 

“Overall, this research is a significant step forward in the development of lithium metal batteries,” the researchers said. “With further improvements, these batteries could revolutionise the energy storage industry and enable the widespread adoption of renewable energy sources.”

The researchers' findings were published in an article in the journal Nature Nanotechnology

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