Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, or Berkeley Lab, scientists have discovered a new type of conductive plastic material that could increase the efficiency of electric vehicles, according to a Berkeley Lab press release Tuesday.
The discovery is the product of scientists searching for a new polymer coating for battery applications, according to lead scientist Gao Liu.
“The plastic conductor has superb ion and electron conductivity, and excellent mechanical properties. It can be used in batteries, capacitors, and other electronics such as solar cells,” Liu said in an email.
The coating, which has been named HOS-PFM, conducts ions and electrons simultaneously, enhancing the battery’s stability.
However, while the dual conductive ability of the material could improve battery quality significantly, it could also be a weakness.
“This plastic material conducts both ions and electrons, so it may pose a challenge for applications requiring only one type of charge movement (where only electrons or ions are conducted, for example),” Liu said in the email.
Liu and his team tested HOS-PFM’s conductive and adhesive abilities by coating aluminum and silicon electrodes with the new polymer on a lithium-ion battery setup. Their experiment demonstrated how the coating prevents electrodes from deteriorating over 300 cycles of charging and discharging, according to the press release.
Damage to electrodes has previously been found to be one of the main reasons batteries degrade. Liu estimates that the application of HOS-PFM could increase a battery’s lifespan by up to five extra years.
The polymer could also expand the usage of silicon in electrodes, increasing the energy density of the batteries. This would also make the electrodes more accessible because silicon is typically cheaper than graphite, the most common material used for electrodes.
Liu estimates that the polymer could be commercially available in two to five years, as the team is planning to partner with companies to begin manufacturing the material soon. The Berkeley Lab press release notes that manufacturers can already contact them to begin licensing the technology.
Improvements in lithium battery technology are at the forefront of the shift toward electric vehicles. In 2021, the U.S. Department of Energy, or DOE, gave Berkeley Lab scientists a grant of $13 million to fund research on solid state lithium batteries, which are different from lithium-ion batteries, and their use in vehicles.
The development of HOS-PFM was also funded by the DOE, specifically by the Vehicle Technologies Office, according to Liu. The Berkeley Lab press release noted that additional funding was provided by the Toyota Research Institute.