Design of Complex Nanomaterials for Energy Storage: Past Success and Future Opportunity

Acc Chem Res. 2017 Dec 19;50(12):2895-2905. doi: 10.1021/acs.accounts.7b00450. Epub 2017 Dec 5.

Abstract

The development of next-generation lithium-based rechargeable batteries with high energy density, low cost, and improved safety is a great challenge with profound technological significance for portable electronics, electric vehicles, and grid-scale energy storage. Specifically, advanced lithium battery chemistries call for a paradigm shift to electrodes with high Li to host ratio based on a conversion or alloying mechanism, where the increased capacity is often accompanied by drastic volumetric changes, significant bond breaking, limited electronic/ionic conductivity, and unstable electrode/electrolyte interphase. Fortunately, the rapid progress of nanotechnology over the past decade has been offering battery researchers effective means to tackle some of the most pressing issues for next-generation battery chemistries. The major applications of nanotechnology in batteries can be summarized as follows: First, by reduction of the dimensions of the electrode materials, the cracking threshold of the material upon lithiation can be overcome, at the same time facilitating electron/ion transport within the electrode. Second, nanotechnology also provides powerful methods to generate various surface-coating and functionalization layers on electrode materials, protecting them from side reactions in the battery environment. Finally, nanotechnology gives people the flexibility to engineer each and every single component within a battery (separator, current collector, etc.), bringing novel functions to batteries that are unachievable by conventional methods. Thus, this Account aims to highlight the crucial role of nanotechnology in advanced battery systems. Because of the limited space, we will mainly assess representative examples of rational nanomaterials design with complexity for silicon and lithium metal anodes, which have shown great promise in constraining their large volume changes and the repeated solid-electrolyte interphase formation during cycling. Noticeably, the roadmap delineating the gradual improvement of silicon anodes with a span of 11 generations of materials designs developed in our group is discussed in order to reflect how nanotechnology could guide battery research step by step toward practical applications. Subsequently, we summarize efforts to construct nanostructured composite sulfur cathodes with improved electronic conductivity and effective soluble species encapsulation for maximizing the utilization of active material, cycle life, and system efficiency. We emphasize carbon-based materials and, importantly, materials with polar surfaces for sulfur entrapment. We then briefly discuss nanomaterials strategies to improve the ionic conductivity of solid polymer electrolytes by means of incorporating high-surface-area and, importantly, high-aspect-ratio secondary-phase fillers for continuous, low-tortuosity ionic transport pathways. Finally, critical innovations that have been brought to the area of grid-scale energy storage and battery safety by nanotechnology are also succinctly reviewed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't