The world is full of inventions that science doesn't entirely understand the fundamental inner workings of. Batteries, for instance. Sure, it's not magic, but there are still a few details that we can't completely explain. Though we're a step closer thanks to a team from Stanford University in the US.
Working at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, the team, headed by assistant professor William Chueh, has come up with a way to X-ray lithium-ion batteries at the nano-scale. It doesn't sound very breath-taking on the surface, but according to the researchers, it could lead to improved battery technology:
"Lithiation and delithiation should be homogenous and uniform," said Yiyang Li, a doctoral candidate in Chueh's lab and co-lead author of the paper. "In reality, however, they're very non-uniform. In our better understanding of the process, this paper lays out a path toward suppressing the phenomenon."
The key is observing the electrochemical interactions at such incredibly small levels and figuring out how to reduce the "stress" on the battery's particles:
"The improved uniformity lowers the damaging mechanical stress on the electrodes and improves battery cyclability," Chueh said. “Beyond batteries, this work could have far-reaching impact on many other electrochemical materials." He pointed to catalysts, memory devices, and so-called smart glass, which transitions from translucent to transparent when electrically charged.
The next great advancement in alternative batteries is definitely growing closer, but I'm sure no one is going to say no to getting a bit more juice out of li-ion.