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Magnesium shows promise for better performing batteries

19 April 2015

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have taken a significant step toward the development of a battery that could outperform lithium-ion technology.

Jordi Cabana, UIC assistant professor of chemistry (photo: Joshua Clark)

They have shown they can replace the lithium ions, each of which carries a single positive charge, with magnesium ions, which have a plus-two charge, in battery-like chemical reactions, using an electrode with a structure like those in many of today's devices.

"Because magnesium is an ion that carries two positive charges, every time we introduce a magnesium ion in the structure of the battery material we can move twice as many electrons," says Jordi Cabana, UIC assistant professor of chemistry and principal researcher. "We hope that this work will open a credible design path for a new class of high-voltage, high-energy batteries." 

Battery electrodes exchange electrons and ions, which are usually of positive charge. Only the ions flow through the electrolyte, which is an electric insulator so as to force the electrons to flow through the external circuit to power the connected device.

To recharge the battery, the exchange is reversed. But the chemical reaction is not perfectly efficient, which limits how many times the battery can be recharged.

"The more times you can do this back and forth, the more times you will be able to recharge your battery and still get the use of it between charges," Cabana says. "In our case, we want to maximise the number of electrons moved per ion, because ions distort the structure of the electrode material when they go in or leave. The more the structure is distorted, the greater the energy cost of moving the ions back, the harder it becomes to recharge the battery.

"Having established that magnesium can be reversibly inserted into electrode material's structure brings us one step closer to a prototype.

"It's not a battery yet, it's piece of a battery, but with the same reaction you would find in the final device."

The study is online in advance of print in the journal, Advanced Materials.


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