Recent research of Professor Saiful Islam with collaborators at Stanford and MIT that could lead to longer lasting lithium batteries has been published in the leading journal Nature Materials.

Rechargeable lithium batteries have helped power the portable revolution in mobile phones, laptops and tablet computers. New generations of lithium batteries are now being developed for electric vehicles and for energy storage of intermittent wind and solar power.

Lithium iron phosphate is a low cost and safe electrode compound for lithium batteries, but it degrades over time and charges slowly. The movement of lithium ions in the electrode is critical to fast charging of a rechargeable battery, but not always fully understood.

Now the research groups of Professor Saiful Islam of the Department of Chemistry at the University of Bath, Professor Will Chueh at Stanford University and Professor Martin Bazant at MIT, have gained important insights into how lithium ions move in this phosphate electrode, published in Nature Materials.

Using a powerful combination of structural experiments and computer simulations the research team has unravelled for the first time that solvent and water molecules promote the movement of lithium ions across the electrode surface, leading to a mechanism that causes the battery material to degrade over time.

Professor Saiful Islam said: “Understanding these processes is important for the future design of advanced materials, and could lead to longer lasting, faster charging batteries.

“Indeed, developing better materials holds the key to a new generation of rechargeable batteries for electric vehicles, which will help with air quality and cutting carbon emissions.”

The research is supported by a £3.2 million Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Programme grant on Energy Materials.

The University of Bath is a major centre for sustainable energy and chemical research. This includes the Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies and the Institute for Sustainable Energy and the Environment.