21st February 2019, Dublin: Researchers from AMBER, the Science Foundation Ireland Research Centre for Advanced Materials and BioEngineering, at Trinity College Dublin, have today announced the development of a new material which has the potential to improve the lifetime of the battery in every day electronics, such as smartphones. The new material also has the potential to significantly improve issues of battery lifetime while also ensuring that batteries can continue to become smaller without loss of performance. 

This ink-based nanomaterial, called MXenes, will potentially enhance both the lifetime and energy storage capabilities in rechargeable batteries which users of electronic devices such as mobile phones, laptops and electric cars encounter every day. The new discovery could mean that the average phone battery life, roughly 10 hours of talk time, could increase to 30-40 hours. It could also have significant environmental impact, as the real time range of electric cars could increase to upwards of 500km (from an average range of 180-190km) meaning a car could drive from Cork to Letterkenny on a single charge.

Existing rechargeable Lithium-ion batteries (commonly found in portable electronics like our laptops, tablets or smartphones) rely on internal chemical reactions to store and emit energy. Making batteries smaller, so that they can fit into our phones or devices, means less space for these chemical reactions to take place. Similarly, making an electric vehicle drive further while keeping cars a reasonable size has led to the search for new technology to improve the amount of energy that can be stored, the rate at which the battery takes to emit energy, and ways of managing the physical deterioration inside the battery. One solution has been to increase the surface area inside the battery where the chemical reactions can take place.

Professor Valeria Nicolosi, AMBER lead Investigator on the project, and Professor of Nanomaterials & Advanced Microscopy at Trinity College Dublin, said: “Despite progress in batteries development there has been limited success in extending lifetime and improving their energy storage capabilities. A lot of it has to do with the need to look outside of box for solutions – specifically at new materials capable of surpassing the conventional technologies. A battery is made by two electrodes (anode and cathode) and a liquid electrolyte – this new research looks at improving the anode electrode and we are extremely excited by the potential of this new class of 2D nanomaterials”.

The new study is published in Nature Communications* a leading international science journal. The work was conducted by School of Chemistry post-doctoral researchers, Dr Chuanfang (John) Zhang and Dr Sang-hoon Park, first authors on the paper, alongside researchers at the School of Physics at Trinity College Dublin and in partnership with A. J. Drexel Nanomaterials Institute and Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Drexel University Philadelphia.

Professor Mick Morris, Director of AMBER and Professor in Trinity’s School of Chemistry, said: “Today’s announcement by our researchers in AMBER further enhances our already proven track record of pushing the boundaries of science to discover real solutions that can improve people’s lives. I wish to congratulate Valeria and her team on this exciting development. As a world class research centre, our AMBER researchers discover new materials, control their properties and help deliver products that transform society. This is an excellent example of research with real social impact, with this technology potentially improving the lives of billions of people.”

This new research uses a family of nanomaterials called MXenes. These 2D nanosheets are suspended in a thick liquid for easy processing and can be printed to form a continuous nanoscale metallic network.

Battery performance and durability greatly depend on electrodes being electrically conductive and robust, able to withstand hundreds of charging cycles. Traditionally, the addition of conductive agents has ensured the charge transport throughout the electrode, while polymeric binders hold the electrode materials and the conductive agents together during charging cycles. Although these traditional electrode additives have been widely applied in Lithium-ion battery technologies, they fail to perform well in high-capacity electrodes (high-capacity Li-ion batteries). This is because the polymeric binders are not mechanically robust enough to withstand the stress induced during usage (lithiation/delithiation cycling), leading to cracking and severely disrupting the conductivity within the electrode.

AMBER’s approach allows the battery to be both conductive and able to withstand hundreds of charging cycles, using these new class of 2D nanosheets. These novel materials not only are extremely good electrical conductors but are also remarkable in their mechanical properties, achieving unprecedented performance, surpassing anything reported so far.

The work was conducted by AMBER and Trinity post-doctoral researchers, Dr Chuanfang (John) Zhang and Sang-hoon Park first authors on the paper, via funding through SFI-AMBER research Centre, the European Research Council (StG 2DNanocaps and 3D2Dprint) and Science Foundation Ireland (PIYRA and US-Ireland) grants.