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Engineers apply quantum mechanics to enhance performance of lithium-metal batteries

Perla Balbuena and Jorge Seminario, College of Engineering, have developed a new method to understand the impact of external pressure on lithium-metal batteries using quantum mechanics. The resulting deepened understand can improve lithium-metal battery fabrication processes to develop more efficient battery technologies.

This research is ongoing under the Battery500 Consortium and led by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to help achieve goals set out by the Department of Energy. The research was also recently published in Nature Energy.

Current lithium batteries have limitations which can be improved by exploring alternative materials. The researchers studied this area and found that the replacement of the conventional graphite anode with lithium metal could enhance energy density by a factor if ten within the anode.

Their research also focused on understanding the effects of external pressure. They found that they can achieve nearly uniform lithium-ion distribution on the anode, thereby preventing the formation of dendrites.

The key finding from the research is that lithium ions exhibit a preference for detouring toward regions with elevated pressure of a higher concentration of lithium atoms on the surface. The behavior is a result of the electric field generated by the lithium-metal anode.

This discovery will allow the researchers to predict the behavior of novel materials proposed as components for cutting-edge applications. The ability to predict the behavior of ions in these conditions can open the door to the widespread use of lithium-metal batteries developed with less expensive infrastructure and fabrication processes and that have longer battery life and increased functionality.