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Posted: Jul 27, 2011
Graphene nanocomposite a bridge to better batteries
(Nanowerk News) Researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have created a graphene and tin nanoscale composite material for high-capacity energy storage in renewable lithium ion batteries. By encapsulating tin between sheets of graphene, the researchers constructed a new, lightweight "sandwich" structure that should bolster battery performance.
Assembly of alternating layers of graphene and tin to create a nanoscale composite. First a thin film of tin is deposited onto graphene. Next, another sheet of graphene is transferred on top of the tin film. This process is repeated and the composite material is then heated to transform a tin film into a series of pillars. The change in height between graphene layers improves the electrode's performance and allows the battery to be charged quickly and repeatedly without degrading.
"For an electric vehicle, you need a lightweight battery that can be charged quickly and holds its charge capacity after repeated cycling," says Yuegang Zhang, a staff scientist with Berkeley Lab's Molecular Foundry, in the Inorganic Nanostructures Facility, who led this research. "Here, we've shown the rational design of a nanoscale architecture, which doesn't need an additive or binder to operate, to improve battery performance."
Graphene is a single-atom-thick, "chicken-wire" lattice of carbon atoms with stellar electronic and mechanical properties, far beyond silicon and other traditional semiconductor materials. Previous work on graphene by Zhang and his colleagues has emphasized electronic device applications.
In this study, the team assembled alternating layers of graphene and tin to create a nanoscale composite. To create the composite material, a thin film of tin is deposited onto graphene. Next, another sheet of graphene is transferred on top of the tin film. This process is repeated to create a composite material, which is then heated to 300° Celsius (572° Fahrenheit) in a hydrogen and argon environment. During this heat treatment, the tin film transforms into a series of pillars, increasing the height of the tin layer.
The change in height between the graphene layers in these new nanocomposites helps during electrochemical cycling of the battery, as the volume change of tin improves the electrode's performance. In addition, this accommodating behavior means the battery can be charged quickly and repeatedly without degrading — crucial for rechargeable batteries in electric vehicles.
"We have a large battery program here at Berkeley Lab, where we are capable of making highly cyclable cells. Through our interactions in the Carbon Cycle 2.0 program, the Materials Science Division researchers benefit from quality battery facilities and personnel, along with our insights in what it takes to make a better electrode," says co-author Battaglia, program manager in the Advanced Energy Technology department of Berkeley Lab's Environmental and Energy Technologies Division. "In return, we have an outlet for getting these requirements out to scientists developing the next generation of materials."
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory addresses the world's most urgent scientific challenges by advancing sustainable energy, protecting human health, creating new materials, and revealing the origin and fate of the universe. Founded in 1931, Berkeley Lab's scientific expertise has been recognized with 12 Nobel prizes. The University of California manages Berkeley Lab for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science. For more, visit www.lbl.gov.
The Molecular Foundry is one of the five DOE Nanoscale Science Research Centers (NSRCs), national user facilities for interdisciplinary research at the nanoscale, supported by the DOE Office of Science. Together the NSRCs comprise a suite of complementary facilities that provide researchers with state-of-the-art capabilities to fabricate, process, characterize and model nanoscale materials, and constitute the largest infrastructure investment of the National Nanotechnology Initiative. The NSRCs are located at DOE's Argonne, Brookhaven, Lawrence Berkeley, Oak Ridge and Sandia and Los Alamos National Laboratories. For more information about the DOE NSRCs, please visit http://science.energy.gov. For more information about the Molecular Foundry visit http://foundry.lbl.gov/.