Scientists are trying to resolve the deficiencies such as high costs, slow charging rates, and limited lifetimes restrict the utility of lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles, storing electricity from wind or solar power, and other applications; however, few have focused on how the lithium ions move from one electrode to the other. Researchers have taken up the challenge using experiments and theoretical calculations; they showed that the lithium ion's journey involves more intimate contact with the electrolyte molecules than previously thought.
These findings suggest that computational models need to be refined to account for the higher number of electrolyte molecules surrounding the lithium ion (its solvation structure) when representing the lithium ion-electrolyte interaction. The improved modeling of the lithium ion solvation structure could allow lithium-ion batteries to take on new applications.
In recent years, lithium-ion batteries have saturated the electronics market due to their widespread use in cell phones, laptop computers, and tablets. As they comprise such a crucial aspect of modern technology, billions of dollars have been spent to maximize the usefulness of the lithium-ion battery. Various aspects of the lithium-ion battery have been targeted by research seeking to remedy these deficiencies; however, little effort has been focused on discerning exactly how the lithium ions move from one electrode to the other.
Researchers have honed in on this very aspect by investigating the detailed solvation structure of the lithium ion. The findings suggest that future computational models should expand beyond the current tetrahedral model to improve upon the electrolytes within the battery. The improvement of the lithium-ion battery based on these findings could be another step towards making the batteries even more useful for large-scale applications.