Seeing through the future of batteries

Dr. Yang Ha

I bet a lot of you guys while watching this are having your cell phone in hands, because you just can’t live without it. Then you must have experienced when your cellphone battery dies and it is like oh my god this is the end of the world. Indeed, Battery is now the bottle neck of a lot of fields. Everyone wants their cellphone battery to hold longer, nobody wants to replace their laptop every 2 years due to a battery failure, we all wish EV can be cheaper and affordable, and of course we do not want to see them catch on fire. So there is a long way to go

Scientists at different departments of the Lawrence Berkeley Lab are working very hard to make better batteries. Like doctors using X-ray to check inside of their patients, at the Advanced Light Source, X-rays are our magic eyes to see inside the batteries, so as to understand its good, bad and the ugly.

The components of the battery can be quite complicated. As the field develops, scientists are trying to add different ingredients to improve their performance. Sometimes it’s just like cooking, thus it is very important to know the role of each ingredient so you can cook better in the future. At the Advanced Light Source, we can tune the X-ray energy to monitor individual elements at different stage so as to understand the function of each of them.

For example, In traditional LCO battery, Li ion is a charge carrier that cycles between + and – end so you have electric current, and the transition metal like Co is the one that’s storing the electrons, which actually determines the capacity.

O, which are represented by these red dots, used be thought as inert and only to balance the charge, but recent studies found in some materials it actually can be reactive and contribute to the capacity. We still do not fully understand how it works, but our group here have developed a technique called the RIXS. If this O chemistry is active, we will see a fingerprint feature on the 2D map marked by the red arrow here, and this now becomes a slam dunk evidence in the battery community. I myself have measured hundreds of battery samples from different research groups all around the world, and showed that the total capacity can double or even triple if we can have this O chemistry well under control.

So once commercialized, it will lead the battery field to a new generation, with cheaper, higher capacity and safer batteries in your cellphones and cars. So everyone, please stay tuned.