by Dr. Cynthia Lundgren
Scientists studying new ways to squeeze more energy from batteries are making great strides in developing new methods and materials to potentially increase the energy density of batteries by 30 percent.
The electrochemistry group within the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) typically works on cutting-edge energy and power solutions for the Soldier, including batteries, fuel cells, fuel reformation, and capacitors. The battery group recently developed new materials that could change how much batteries weigh, how long they last, and how much power they provide.
We’ve done this through fundamental research. Army scientists have studied how batteries work for years, looking at how each component interacts with the others. As a result, we have designedmaterials that allow for stable operation at high voltages and increased energy density, a measure of the amount of energy per unit of weight or volume that can be stored in a battery.
We looked at how to control the interface between the electrode and the electrolyte. That’s what determines how fast electrons can move back and forth; it dictates how fast a battery can charge and discharge, as well as how much power it can have.
At high voltages, batteries are extremely energetic, instable systems. At very high voltages, the electrode eats up the electrolyte. As a result, there has never been a single-cell battery that operated at 5 volts or higher.
yet higher voltages can be a good thing. The higher the voltage, the more energy and power. Voltage is like water pressurein a pipe: The higher the pressure, the more powerful the stream.
A MUCH-NEEDED BREAKTHROUGH
The basics of battery technology haven’t changed much over the centuries. Although we don’t know exactly what early civilizations did with batteries, archeologists have discovered battery remnants in the ancient world. In 1800, scientists harnessed the power of the chemical battery.
Since the introduction of lithium-ion batteries in the 1970s, progress has been slow.
The three components in the electrochemical reactions of any battery are the anode, cathode, and electrolyte. An anode is an electrode through which electric current flows into a polarized electrical device, and a cathode is an
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