Cornell chemical engineers have achieved a breakthrough in the race for safer, longer-lasting batteries to power the world’s automobiles, cell phones, computers and autonomous robots. Adding certain halide salts to liquid electrolytes spontaneously creates nanostructured surface coatings on a lithium battery anode that hinder the development of detrimental dendritic structures that grow within the battery cell. The discovery opens the way potentially to extend the daily cycle life of a rechargeable lithium battery by up to a factor of 10. The so-called dendrite problem has been troubling lithium battery technology for years. Over several charge/discharge cycles, microscopic particles called dendrites form on the electrode surface and spread, causing short circuits and rapid overheating. “We had conflicting insight from two theories under development in the group and by theorists in the Cornell physics department, which suggested that a nanostructured metal halide coating on the anode could help a little – or a lot – in controlling the formation of dendrites. As it turns out, they work spectacularly well in solving what is widely considered a grand-challenge problem in the field,” said Lynden Archer, the William C. Hooey Director and Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. Archer is senior author on the
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