This image illustrates how a lithium-air battery containing 2D catalysts can power an electric vehicle. Image: Amin Salehi-Khojin.
This image illustrates how a lithium-air battery containing 2D catalysts can power an electric vehicle. Image: Amin Salehi-Khojin.

Lithium-air batteries are poised to become the next revolutionary replacement for the lithium-ion batteries that currently power electric vehicles, cell phones and computers.

Lithium-air batteries, which are still in the experimental stages of development, can store 10 times more energy than lithium-ion batteries and are much lighter. That said, researchers have now shown that lithium-air batteries could be made even more efficient and provide even more charge by incorporating advanced catalysts made from two-dimensional (2D) materials. Catalysts help increase the rate of chemical reactions inside batteries and, depending on the type of material from which the catalyst is made, they can help significantly boost the ability of a battery to hold and provide energy.

"We are going to need very high-energy density batteries to power new advanced technologies that are incorporated into phones, laptops and especially electric vehicles," said Amin Salehi-Khojin, associate professor of mechanical and industrial engineering at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). Salehi-Khojin and his colleagues synthesized several 2D materials that can serve as catalysts. A number of their 2D materials, when incorporated into experimental lithium-air batteries as the catalyst, allowed the battery to hold up to 10 times more energy than lithium-air batteries containing traditional catalysts. They report their findings in a paper in Advanced Materials.

"Currently, electric vehicles average about 100 miles per charge, but with the incorporation of 2D catalysts into lithium-air batteries, we could provide closer to 400 to 500 miles per charge, which would be a real game-changer," said Salehi-Khojin, who is also the corresponding author of the paper. "This would be a huge breakthrough in energy storage."

Salehi-Khojin and his colleagues synthesized 15 different types of 2D transition metal dichalcogenides (TMDCs). TMDCs are unique compounds because they have high electronic conductivity and fast electron transfer that can be used to participate in reactions with other materials, such as the reactions that take place inside batteries during charging and discharging. The investigators experimentally studied the performance of these 15 TMDCs as catalysts in an electrochemical system mimicking a lithium-air battery.

"In their 2D form, these TMDCs have much better electronic properties and greater reactive surface area to participate in electrochemical reactions within a battery while their structure remains stable," explained Leily Majidi, a graduate student in the UIC College of Engineering and first author of the paper. "Reaction rates are much higher with these materials compared to conventional catalysts used such as gold or platinum."

One of the reasons the 2D TDMCs performed so well is because they help speed both the charging and discharging reactions that occur in lithium-air batteries. "This would be what is known as bi-functionality of the catalyst," Salehi-Khojin said.

The 2D materials also synergize with the electrolyte – the material through which ions move during charge and discharge.

"The 2D TDMCs and the ionic liquid electrolyte that we used acts as a co-catalyst system that helps the electrons transfer faster, leading to faster charges and more efficient storage and discharge of energy," explained Salehi-Khojin. "These new materials represent a new avenue that can take batteries to the next level, we just need to develop ways to produce and tune them more efficiently and in larger scales."

This story is adapted from material from the University of Illinois at Chicago, with editorial changes made by Materials Today. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of Elsevier. Link to original source.