Polymer discovery paves way for low-cost ultrafast batteries

April 07, 2015 //By Paul Buckley
Researchers at the University of Houston have developed an efficient conductive electron-transporting polymer that should allow ultrafast battery applications.

The polymer exhibits the fastest charge-discharge performance for an organic material under practical measurement conditions, allowing a battery to be 80 percent charged within six seconds and fully charged in another 18 seconds.

The discovery relies upon a 'conjugated redox polymer' design with a naphthalene-bithiophene polymer, which has traditionally been used for applications including transistors and solar cells. With the use of lithium ions as dopant, the researchers found it offered electronic conductivity and remained stable and reversible through thousands of cycles of charging and discharging energy.

The discovery, described in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, solves on a decades-long challenge for electron-transport conducting polymers, suggested Yan Yao, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the UH Cullen College of Engineering and lead author of the paper.

Rational combination of advantages of state-of-the-art polymers has resulted in highly electronically conducting polymers that could enable a battery to be 80% charged within six sec, and fully charged in another 18 sec. Image: Univ. of Houston

Researchers have long recognized the promise of functional organic polymers, but until now have not been successful in developing an efficient electron-transport conducting polymer to pair with the established hole-transporting polymers. The lithium-doped naphthalene-bithiophene polymer proved both to exhibit electronic conductivity and to be stable through 3,000 cycles of charging and discharging energy.

The research could lead to a cheaper alternative to traditional inorganic-based energy devices, including lithium batteries. Ultimately, Yao said, it could translate into less expensive consumer devices and even less expensive electric cars.

Yanliang Liang, a research associate at UH and first author on the paper, said researchers are not trying to compete directly with conventional lithium-ion batteries.

Liang pointed out that conventional inorganic metal-based batteries and energy storage devices are expensive partly because the materials used to make them, including cobalt and silicon-based compounds, require large energy expenditures to process. Organic polymers can be processed at relatively low temperatures,