Designing better battery electrolytes

Designing a battery is a three-part process. You need a positive electrode, you need a negative electrode, and — importantly — you need an electrolyte that works with both electrodes.

An electrolyte is the battery component that transfers ions — charge-carrying particles — back and forth between the battery’s two electrodes, causing the battery to charge and discharge. For today’s lithium-ion batteries, electrolyte chemistry is relatively well-defined. For future generations of batteries being developed around the world and at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory, however, the question of electrolyte design is wide open.

“While we are locked into a particular concept for electrolytes that will work with today’s commercial batteries, for beyond-lithium-ion batteries the design and development of different electrolytes will be crucial,” said Shirley Meng, chief scientist at the Argonne Collaborative Center for Energy Storage Science (ACCESS) and professor of molecular engineering at the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering of The University of Chicago. ​“Electrolyte development is one key to the progress we will achieve in making these cheaper, longer-lasting and more powerful batteries a reality, and taking one major step towards continuing to decarbonize our economy.”

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