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New tech may help lithium-ion batteries last for nine years

Cell phone battery. (Reference image by bigbestapps, Flickr.)

Engineers at Australia’s RMIT University are proposing the idea of incorporating a 2D material into lithium-ion batteries to extend their lifetime up to three times longer than today’s technology, that is, to about nine years. 

In a paper published in the journal Nature Communications, the researchers explain that they are using MXene, a class of material that is similar to graphene but has high electrical conductivity.

The big challenge with using MXene is that it rusts easily, thereby inhibiting electrical conductivity and rendering it unusable. To overcome this issue, the RMIT group looked into sound waves and discovered that at a certain frequency, they remove rust from MXene, restoring it to close to its original state.

This innovation could one day help to revitalize MXene batteries every few years.

“Surface oxide, which is rust, is difficult to remove, especially on this material, which is much, much thinner than a human hair,” Hossein Alijani, co-lead author of the study, said in a media statement. “Current methods used to reduce oxidation rely on the chemical coating of the material, which limits the use of the MXene in its native form. In this work, we show that exposing an oxidized MXene film to high-frequency vibrations for just a minute removes the rust on the film. This simple procedure allows its electrical and electrochemical performance to be recovered.”

Alijani and his colleagues believe that their work to remove rust from Mxene opens the door for the nanomaterial to be used in a wide range of applications in energy storage, sensors, wireless transmission and environmental remediation.

The ability to quickly restore oxidized materials to an almost pristine state also represents a game-changer in terms of the circular economy.

“Materials used in electronics, including batteries, generally suffer deterioration after two or three years of use due to rust forming,” Amgad Rezk, senior author of the paper, said. “With our method, we can potentially extend the lifetime of battery components by up to three times.”

While the innovation is promising, the team needs to work with industry to integrate its acoustics device into existing manufacturing systems and processes. They are also exploring the use of their invention to remove oxide layers from other materials for applications in sensing and renewable energy.