A new approach to analyzing and designing new ion conductors — a key component of rechargeable batteries — could accelerate the development of high-energy lithium batteries and possibly other energy storage and delivery devices, such as fuel cells, researchers say. The new approach relies on understanding the way vibrations move through the crystal lattice of lithium ion conductors and correlating that with the way they inhibit ion migration. This provides a way to discover new materials with enhanced ion mobility, allowing rapid charging and discharging. At the same time, the method can be used to reduce the material’s reactivity with the battery’s electrodes, which can shorten its useful life. These two characteristics — better ion mobility and low reactivity — have tended to be mutually exclusive. The new concept can now provide a powerful tool for developing new, better-performing materials that could lead to dramatic improvements in the amount of power that could be stored in a battery of a given size or weight, as well as improved safety, the researchers say. Already, they used the method to find some promising candidates. And the techniques could also be adapted to analyze materials for other electrochemical processes such as solid-oxide fuel cells, membrane based desalination systems or oxygen-generating reactions.
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