Longer-lasting, more efficient batteries would be a boost for everything from smartphones to electric vehicles, and scientists have now made an unexpected discovery that could help develop next-gen battery tech, as well as faster catalysts and other advanced materials.
An analysis of the very earliest stages of lithium battery charging – known as nucleation – has shown that slowing electrical currents near the electrode creates disorganised patterns of atoms, which in turn improves the overall charging behaviour.
Through a combination of detailed electron microscopy, liquid-nitrogen cooling, and computer modelling, the researchers were able to observe a noncrystalline ‘glassy’ form of lithium metal as the charging progressed.
“The power of cryogenic imaging to discover new phenomena in materials science is showcased in this work,” says materials scientist Shirley Meng from the University of California San Diego (UCSD).
“True teamwork enabled us to interpret the experimental data with confidence because the computational modelling helped decipher the complexity.”
It’s the first time that a pure metal has been observed in an amorphous form – one much less structured than would normally be expected from the battery-charging process.
Lithium atoms are deposited on the battery anode as it…