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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


Under the Microscope: researching silver matrix batteries to power a new frontier

Scientists at Stony Brook and Brookhaven National Laboratory are researching how to develop a battery with a longer life span than current batteries for implantable cardiac defibrillators. PHOTO CREDIT: ROB NUNN

Every other week, graduate student Ricardo Raudales will take a look at Stony Brook science and research-related news.

From smartphones to electric vehicles, lithium-based batteries seem to make the digital world go round. Yet despite their ubiquity, the basic concept behind lithium-based batteries has remained largely unchanged for over a decade and so far, improvements in performance have been relatively modest.

That may soon change thanks to new efforts by scientists at Stony Brook and Brookhaven National Laboratory to map the electronic pathways inside a new kind of multi-metallic battery.

In a study published last month in Science, professor Esther Takeuchi and her colleagues tackled the question of how a highly conductive silver matrix could lead to better designs for lithium-based batteries. Takeuchi is a Stony Brook professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and is chief scientist at Brookhaven Lab’s Basic Energy Sciences Directorate.

“Silver vanadium diphosphate is a new material we started investigating just a few years ago,” Takeuchi said. “Our goal was to develop a battery that would have a longer life than current batteries used to power implantable cardiac defibrillators.”

We found that this material forms silver metal as the battery is first used,” Takeuchi said. “The silver metal initially exists as nanoparticles and then forms a conductive network within the electrode, which makes the battery work better.”

To study this silver conductive network in action, Takeuchi and her colleagues developed an in situ way of analyzing batteries by measuring x-ray diffraction patterns.

“The most common way to investigate a battery is to test it and then cut it open,” Takeuchi said. “However, the in situ method we developed was a significant change. We were able to use x-rays from the synchrotron (NSLS I) at Brookhaven, which are powerful enough to penetrate the steel casing of the battery. This allowed us to investigate the reactions taking place inside the battery without having to cut it open.”

“This new method is significant in that it provides new types of information as the battery is not disturbed,” Takeuchi said.

Using this technique, the researchers discovered that initial use of the battery changes the nature of the silver conductive network, such that slower formation leads to a more uniform conductive network.

“Based on our findings, it appears we can overcome a life-limiting mechanism present in the batteries used today,” Takeuchi said. “The new system could, in turn, provide longer life.”

Yet batteries are not the only material that can be studied with the new in situ technique.

“We envision the method could be used more generally to study reactions that take place inside vessels,” Takeuchi said. “For example, it could be useful for catalysis, synthesis and the study of other chemical reactions.”

The implications of a breakthrough battery design are undoubtedly huge, with many predicting that it could revolutionize the renewable energy sector as well as many consumer electronics. 

While we await the battery revolution (or, at least, a smartphone that actually holds a charge for a day), Takeuchi had a few words of advice for budding Stony Brook scientists and engineers: “Science and engineering are becoming very exciting, especially with the new methods for investigation that are being developed. Stick with it, be curious, work hard and good things can happen.”

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