University researchers discover new material that could transform sustainable batteries

University of Liverpool labs

Researchers at the University of Liverpool have discovered a solid material that rapidly conducts lithium ions, which could boost production of electric vehicles and help address global priorities such as net zero.

Such lithium electrolytes are essential components in the rechargeable batteries that power electric vehicles and many electronic devices.

Consisting of non-toxic earth-abundant elements, the new material has high enough Li ion conductivity to replace the liquid electrolytes in current Li ion battery technology, improving safety and energy capacity.

Using a transformative scientific approach to design the material, the interdisciplinary research team from the university synthesised the material in the laboratory, determined its structure – the arrangement of the atoms in space – and demonstrated it in a battery cell.

The new material is one of a very small number of solid materials that achieve Li ion conductivity high enough to replace liquid electrolytes, and operates in a new way because of its structure.

Its discovery was achieved through a collaborative computational and experimental workflow that used AI and physics-based calculations to support decisions made by chemistry experts at the university.

The new material provides a platform for the optimisation of chemistry to further enhance the properties of the material itself, and to identify other materials based on the new understanding provided by the study.

Prof Matt Rosseinsky, from the university’s Department of Chemistry, said: “This research demonstrates the design and discovery of a material that is both new and functional. The structure of this material changes previous understanding of what a high performance solid-state electrolyte looks like.

“Specifically, solids with many different environments for the mobile ions can perform very well, not just the small number of solids where there is a very narrow range of ionic environments. This dramatically opens up the chemical space available for further discoveries.”

The discovery was revealed in a study published in the journal ‘Science’, and Prof Rosseinsky said: “This discovery research paper shows that AI and computers marshalled by experts can tackle the complex problem of real world materials discovery, where we seek meaningful differences in composition and structure whose impact on properties is assessed based on understanding.”

He added: “Our disruptive design approach offers a new route to discovery of these and other high performance materials that rely on the fast motion of ions in solids.”

The study undertaken was a combined effort between researchers in the University of Liverpool’s Department of Chemistry, Materials Innovation Factory, Leverhulme Research Centre for Functional Materials Design, Stephenson Institute for Renewable Energy, Albert Crewe Centre and School of Engineering.

The work was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the Leverhulme Trust, and the Faraday Institution.