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Batteries and atoms

In this video Dr Yi Du talks about the link between Batteries and Atoms.

In this video, you will meet Dr. Yi Du who specialises in making materials by controlling individual atoms and how these atomic changes affect the makeup and function of materials.

In this video, he talks about new batteries being developed, how these are created and how they are tested by scientists. One of the challenges that he and other scientists are still working on is how to make batteries operate for longer and make them more durable.

How can we make batteries become more powerful and longer lasting?

The anodes and cathodes of batteries are made up of groups of metal atoms and ions that are able to move from the electrodes into the electrolyte, by losing or gaining electrons as we discussed in the Basics of Batteries. In order to make this movement easier during charging and discharging of the battery, the anode and cathode can be made of layered materials, which provide space between the layers to accommodate the atoms and ions, as can be seen in the image below.

In his lab, Dr. Du and his colleagues are trying to create new layered battery materials in which the layers are as thin as possible, only a single atom layer thick, which provides a “huge” space to accommodate the atoms and ions, potentially allowing many more ions to be stored in the material.

Because there is a layered structure the atoms/ions can move in and out of the anode/cathode very fast, which means the battery can be charged very fast. Based on their work controlling the atomic structure of the layered materials, they are able to design exciting new materials for the lithium battery, for the sodium battery, and other types of batteries.

Battery testing lab

The best way to test a battery is when it is being used. Dr. Du and his colleagues use a fully electric car to test their new batteries.

A racecar is a great way to push the batteries to their limit – especially in terms of delivering large amounts of energy rapidly and with sudden increases/decreases in draw. These are harsher conditions than would likely be experienced by a typical household battery or even the one in your laptop and is an example of ‘accelerated testing’.

They can now test the effect of the speed of the car, the distance it travels and its weight on the battery. All of these kinds of parameters can help them evaluate the performance of their batteries and new battery materials.

The evaluation of these kinds of battery measurements in turn helps them to redesign their materials to make them even better.

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