Cell phones, CD players and flashlights all wear down batteries far faster than we might wish. But theres new hope, now that researchers at the Department of Energys Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (INEEL) have overcome another barrier to building more powerful, longer-lasting lithium-based batteries.
The INEEL team, led by inorganic chemist Thomas Luther, discovered how lithium ions move through the flexible membrane that powers their patented rechargeable lithium battery. Research results are currently published online, and in the April 24, 2003, print issue of the Journal of Physical Chemistry B.
Luther calls their translucent polymer membrane an inorganic version of plastic kitchen wrap. The team, including chemists Luther, Mason Harrup and Fred Stewart, created it in 2000 by adding a ceramic powder to a material called MEEP ([bis(methoxyethoxyethoxy) phosphazene]), an oozy, thick oil. The resulting solid, pliable membrane lets positively charged lithium ions pass through to create the electrical circuit that powers the battery, but rebuffs negatively charged electrons. This keeps the battery from running down while it sits on the shelf-overcoming a major battery-life storage problem.
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