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Wax, soap clean up obstacles to better batteries
Date:8/12/2010

. Recharging starts the whole sordid process over.

Cheaper, Stabler

While cobalt oxide performs well in lithium batteries, cobalt and nickel are more expensive than manganese or iron. In addition, substituting phosphate for oxide provides a more stable structure for lithium.

Lithium iron phosphate batteries are commercially available in some power tools and solar products, but synthesis of the electrode material is complicated. Choi and colleagues wanted to develop a simple method to turn lithium metal phosphate into a good electrode.

Lithium manganese phosphate -- LMP -- can theoretically store some of the highest amounts of energy of the rechargeable batteries, weighing in at 171 milliAmp hours per gram of material. High storage capacity allows the batteries to be light. But other investigators working with LMP have not even been able to eek out 120 milliAmp hours per gram so far from the material they've synthesized.

Choi reasoned the 30 percent loss in capacity could be due to lithium and electrons having to battle their way through the metal oxide, a property called resistance. The less distance lithium and electrons have to travel out of the cathode, he thought, the less resistance and the more electricity could be stored. A smaller particle would decrease that distance.

But growing smaller particles requires lower temperatures. Unfortunately, lower temperatures means the metal oxide molecules fail to line up well in the crystals. Randomness is unsuitable for cathode materials, so the researchers needed a framework in which the ingredients -- lithium, manganese and phosphate -- could arrange themselves into neat crystals.

Wax On, Wax Off

Paraffin wax is made up of long straight molecules that don't react with much, and the long molecules might help line things up. Soap -- a surfactant called oleic acid -- might help the growing crystals disperse evenly.

So, Choi an
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Contact: Mary Beckman
mary.beckman@pnl.gov
509-375-3688
DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert  

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