IRC Laureate Prof Colm O’Dwyer is taking a look inside the next generation of batteries

Posted: 6 June, 2020

Batteries produce power through the flow of electrons, from one material (electrode) to another within an electrolyte solution. The balance of power is controlled by the combination of materials used to make up the electrolyte solution and the electrodes. Take for example the lithium-ion battery used in mobile phones. The electrodes in this battery are typically made from carbon and metal oxide and the electrolyte solution contains lithium salt, this combination allows for the battery to be recharged over and over without decreasing is functionality. Electric vehicle batteries demonstrate how far this seemingly simple technology has come in under half a century.

The increasing awareness of the negative impact fossil fuels are having on our climate has meant there has been a mass move towards electric power and thus a heavier burden on the humble battery to preform great feats of energy storage. We want to drive across the country on a single charge of a car battery, we want harvest the energy of the sun and store it in vast quantities to serve the needs of millions, we also want smaller and more portable electronics that last longer. It is clear the future of green energy is going to go hand in hand with the future of battery research and today, on World Environment Day, we celebrate the great research taking place in Ireland to support a greener future.

Leading the charge in UCC is IRC Laureate Awardee Prof Colm O’Dwyer. He and his team are looking at new combinations of materials to create higher energy dense, more sustainable batteries. To achieve this, they have developed a way of looking inside the battery as the chemical reactions occur. Using photonics, the science of light, they can observe in real time the way a multitude of materials react in a battery setup and determine how a particular type of material behaves, and which options are best for long life, fast charging or high power. They are also looking at 3D printing of batteries that can be custom built to suit any technology allowing for greater design capacity.

Speaking about his work Prof O’Dwyer commented: “If the world is to shift from fossil fuels, we need the next generation of rechargeable batteries. Today is World Environment Day and I am proud to lead a research team here at UCC that is deploying frontier research to help our transition. To speed up the optimization of more sustainable battery materials, we are developing new ways of probing material behaviour in a battery, non destructively in real-time.”

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