Better, Faster, Stronger: Building Batteries That Don’t Go Boom

Nanoindentation of high-purity vapor deposited lithium films: A mechanistic rationalization of diffusion-mediated flow

The diamond-tipped probe Herbert and Hackney use for their research is incredibly sensitive and must be housed in a compartment that muffles any sort of vibrations.

September 10, 2018 | Source: Michigan Technologies University, mtu.edu, 29 May 2018, Kelley Christensen

Understanding how lithium reacts to pressure developed from charging and discharging a battery could mean safer, better batteries.


There’s an old saying: “You must learn to walk before you learn to run.” Despite such wisdom, numerous industries skip the basics and sign up for marathons instead, including the battery industry.

Lithium ion batteries hold incredible promise for improved storage capacity, but they are volatile. We’ve all heard the news about lithium ion batteries in phones—most notably the Samsung Galaxy 7—causing phones to catch fire.

Much of the problem arises from the use of flammable liquid electrolyte inside the battery. One approach is to use a non-flammable solid electrolyte together with a lithium metal electrode. This would increase the energy of the battery while at the same time decreasing the possibility of a fire.

Essentially, the destination is building next generation solid-state batteries that don’t go boom. The journey is to fundamentally understand lithium.

“Everybody is just looking at the energy storage components of the battery,” says Erik Herbert, assistant professor of materials science and engineering at Michigan Technological University. “Very few research groups are interested in understanding the mechanical elements. But low and behold, we’re discovering that the mechanical properties of lithium itself may be the key piece of the puzzle.”