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August 22, 2023

True Shape of Lithium

NSF-supported researchers at UCLA have discovered the intrinsic morphology of metallic lithium to be that of a rhombic dodecahedron.

Credit: U.S. National Science Foundation

Our electric vehicles and smartphones run on rechargeable lithium-Ion batteries, and they are used to store power in solar and wind energy applications but what if an older technology could be made safer and outperform batteries as we know them? We'll explore the future of energy storage on NSF's "Discovery Files."

The lithium-ion batteries as we know them are descended from an earlier technology called a lithium-metal battery. These batteries could potentially hold double the charge but have a far greater risk of catching fire or exploding. This reactivity of Metallic lithium is so drastic that it begins to corrode almost immediately when exposed to a surface such as an electrode.

The performance of next-generation batteries is closely linked to the shapes that metallic lithium forms during charging. NSF-Supported engineers from UCLA have discovered the intrinsic morphology of metallic lithium to be that of a rhombic do-deca- hedron, a 12-sided figure similar to the dice used in role-playing games.

By developing a technique that uses electricity and an electrolyte solution of salts, the researchers were able to pack 10 times more lithium into the same space as traditional lithium-ion batteries.

Professor Yuzhang Li: It's a direct correlation between what the lithium looks like and battery performance.

This breakthrough could have substantial implications for high-performance energy technology, allowing not only for the development of a more powerful battery, but with the absence of corrosion, a safer one as well.

To hear more science and engineering news, including the researchers making it, subscribe to "NSF's Discovery Files" podcast.

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