Discovery could enable batteries with unlimited lifetime

April 25, 2016 // By Graham Prophet
A team at the University of California, Irvine report – almost inadvertently - inventing nanowire-based battery material that can be recharged hundreds of thousands of times, moving us closer to a battery that would never require replacement.

The basic structures being investigated are charge-storage mechanisms based around nanowires; the 'wires' in question are deposited strutures (wires only the sense they are long, thin conductors). In the work reported, the wires are gold, and they are coated or sheathed in manganese dioxide (MnO 2). The device is essentially a capacitor, with the charge-storing capacitance being formed between interleaved arrays of the wires, all suspended in an electrolyte medium.


The use of nanowires is known to offer higher charge storage than films of identical materials. Thousands of times thinner than a human hair, they’re highly conductive and feature a large surface area for the storage and transfer of electrons. The gold wires (laid down on glass) are 240 nm across and 35 nm thick; various shell thicknesses between 143 and 300 nm were evaluated. Prior work has found that these filaments are extremely fragile and don’t hold up well to repeated discharging and recharging, or cycling. In a typical lithium-ion battery, they expand and grow brittle, which leads to cracking.


UCI researchers have solved this problem by coating a gold nanowire in a manganese dioxide shell and encasing the assembly in an electrolyte made of a Plexiglas-like gel: a gell of poly-methyl-methacrylate and LiClO 4 (lithium perchlorate, source of the lithium ions to form a lithium ion battery). The combination is reliable and resistant to failure.


The study leader, UCI doctoral candidate Mya Le Thai, cycled the testing electrode up to 200,000 times over three months without detecting any loss of capacity or power and without fracturing any nanowires. The findings were published today in the American Chemical Society’s Energy Letters.


Hard work combined with serendipity paid off in this case, according to senior author Reginald Penner. “Mya was playing around, and she coated this whole thing with a very thin gel layer and started to cycle it,” said Penner, chair of UCI’s chemistry