Next gen batteries possible with engineering breakthrough

Three-dimensional polymer on lithium metal battery anodes could double battery life, increase charge rate and safety.


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Dramatically longer lasting, faster charging, and safer lithium metal batteries may be possible from Penn State research published recently in Nature Energy.

Funded by the U.S Department of Energy, researchers developed a three-dimensional cross-linked polymer sponge that attaches to the metal plating of a battery anode.

“This project aims to develop the next generation of metal batteries,” said Donghai Wang, professor of mechanical engineering and chemical engineering and the principal investigator of the project, said. “Lithium metal has been tried in batteries for decades, but there are some fundamental issues that inhibit their advancement.”

Under additional strain, like the fast charging methods desired in electrical vehicles, lithium ion (Li) batteries are vulnerable to dendritic growth, which are needle-like formations that can reduce cycle life and potentially cause safety issues like fires or explosions.

“Our approach was to use a polymer on the interface of Li metal ,” Wang explained. The material acts as a porous sponge that not only promotes ion transfer, but also inhibits deterioration.

He said, “This allowed the metal plating to be free of dendrites, even at low temperatures and fast charge conditions.”

Wang, who is part of Penn State’s Institutes of Energy and the Environment (IEE), also belongs to the Battery Energy and Storage Technology (BEST) Center, a leading research institute in energy storage.

A critical component of both IEE’s and the BEST Center’s missions, this project brought together researchers from different disciplines within the University.

“The collaboration in this cohort really helped drive this paper forward,” Wang explained. “It allowed us to examine the different aspects of this problem, from materials science, chemical engineering, chemistry, and mechanical engineering perspectives.” In this collaborative work, Long-Qing Chen, a professor in Department of Materials Science and Engineering, and his group conducted modeling work to understand the improvement of Li metal anode.

The practical applications of this work could enable more powerful and stable metal battery technologies integral to everyday life.

“In an electric vehicle, it could increase the range of a drive before needing a charge by hundreds of miles,” Wang said. “It could also give smartphones a longer battery life.”

Looking to the future, the team will explore the practical applications in a large format battery cell to demonstrate its advantages and feasibility.

Wang said, “We want to push these technologies forward. With this work, I’m positive we can double the life cycle of these Li metal batteries.”

Penn State researchers Guoxing Li, Zhe Liu, Qingquan Huang, Yue Gao, Michael Regula (chemical engineering doctoral student), and Daiwei Wang also contributed to the project.

The Institutes of Energy and the Environment (IEE) is one of seven interdisciplinary research institutes at Penn State. With more than 500 extraordinary faculty, staff, and students advancing the energy and environmental research missions of the University, IEE works to build teams of researchers from different disciplines to see how new partnerships and new ways of thinking can solve some of the world’s most difficult energy and environmental challenges.


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Erin Cassidy Hendrick

“We want to push these technologies forward. With this work, I’m positive we can double the life cycle of these Li metal batteries.” - Donghai Wang, professor of mechanical engineering and chemical engineering



The Penn State Department of Chemical Engineering, established in 1948, is recognized as one of the largest and most influential chemical engineering departments in the nation.

The department is built upon the fundamentals of academic integrity, innovation in research, and commitment to the advancement of industry.

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