Wide-scale storage is currently the Holy Grail of researchers designing energy-storage solutions for clean energy, and scientists at Stanford University have come closer to achieving it with a new mathematical model for designing materials.
The work—conducted by researchers in the university’s School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences—also could help researchers build batteries that last longer in smaller form factors, said Daniel Tartakovsky, a professor in the school and one of the leaders of the work.
“If you could engineer a material with a far superior storage capacity than what we have today, then you could dramatically improve the performance of batteries,” he said.
Tartakovsky described the model—which works with nanoporous materials, the materials widely used to develop energy storage—and how it works to Design News. These materials look solid to the human eye but contain microscopic holes that give them unique properties.
|Researchers at Stanford University have developed a new mathematical model that can improve the design of energy storage beyond current lithium-ion designs (pictured), as well as pave the way for new solutions in energy storage for clean energy. (Source: Wikipedia Commons)|
“The model connects pore characteristics of a nanoporous material, e.g., its pore structure, and operating conditions to the material’s macroscopic properties of interest, e.g., electrolyte diffusion or electric capacitance,” he explained. “This connection is then used to optimize these macroscopic properties by using the pore characteristics as decision variables.”
Until now, working with nanoporous materials has been a matter of trial and error, but the model gives materials scientists more predictability in their work, Tartakovsky said.
“We developed a model that would allow materials chemists to know what to expect in terms of performance if the grains are arranged in a certain way, without going through these experiments,” he said. “The model provides a systematic alternative to the currently used ‘trial-and-error’ strategy for materials development, which could dramatically accelerate discovery of nanoporous metamaterials with superior energy-storage characteristics.”
Indeed, by using the model, researchers can “significantly speed up design of nanoporous metamaterials with superior energy-storage characteristics, such as electrolyte diffusion or electric capacitance,” Tartakovsky said.
Tartakovsky and fellow researchers published a study on their work in the journal Applied Physics Letters.
Tartakovsky hopes the new materials developed through this model will improve supercapacitors, which researchers are eyeing to replace rechargeable batteries in devices like mobile phones and electric vehicles. Supercapacitors, like batteries, can store significant amounts of energy, but they charge faster than typical batteries.
The model also could play a key role in developing new energy-storage technologies that make cleaner energies like solar and wind available even when the natural resource itself is not, he added.
“Current batteries and other storage devices are a major bottleneck for transition to clean energy,” Tartakovsky said. “There are many people working on this, but this is a new approach to looking at the problem.”
The work also has applications beyond energy in fields such as water desalination or other types of membrane purification, as well as biomedical tissue engineering and other applications, he added. “The framework allows you to handle different chemistry, so you could apply it to any porous materials that you design.”
Researchers will continue their work and search for industrial collaborators to help advance use of the model and expand its scope, Tartakovsky said.
Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 15 years. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.