To find a way to make bigger holes in the manganese oxide, PNNL researchers went much much smaller. They turned to nanomaterials -- materials made on the nanometer-sized scale, or about a million times thinner than a dime -- that have surprising properties due to their smallness. For example, the short distances that sodium ions have to travel in nanowires might make the manganese oxide a better electrode in ways unrelated to the size of the tunnels..
To explore, the team mixed two different kinds of manganese oxide atomic building blocks -- one whose atoms arrange themselves in pyramids, and another one whose atoms form an octahedron, a diamond-like structure from two pyramids stuck together at their bases. They expected the final material to have large S-shaped tunnels and smaller five-sided tunnels through which the ions could flow.
After mixing, the team treated the materials with temperatures ranging from 450 to 900 degrees Celsius, then examined the materials and tested which treatment worked best. Using a scanning electron microscope, the team found that different temperatures created material of different quality. Treating the manganese oxide at 750 degrees Celsius created the best crystals: too low and the crystals appeared flakey, too high and the crystals turned into larger flat plates.
Zooming in even more using a transmission electron microscope at EMSL, DOE's Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory on PNNL's campus, the team saw that manganese oxide heated to 600 degrees had pockmarks in the nanowires that could impede the sodium ions, but the 750 degree-treated wires looked uniform and very crystalline.
But even the best-looking material is just window-dressing if it doesn't perform well. To find out if it lived up to its good looks,
|Contact: Mary Beckman|
DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory