UT invents high-performing, environmentally friendly lithium battery electrode

     Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin have broken the chemical code for one component of lithium batteries that allows them to use a manganese-based material. The currently available lithium batteries use cobalt-based material. Manganese is 50 to 100 times cheaper than cobalt, and is environmentally friendly. Their breakthrough is reported in the Nov. 20 issue of Nature.

     With demand spiraling for battery-powered cellular phones and laptop computers, researchers have been racing to replace the highly toxic and expensive cobalt-based battery cathode with a manganese-based battery cathode.

     Up to now, substituting the cheaper and more environmentally friendly manganese oxide cathode for the cobalt oxide in rechargeable lithium batteries has not yielded the performance needed. For instance, previous manganese-based cathodes have shown capacity fading upon recharging.

     Dr. Arumugam Manthiram, associate professor of materials science, and his graduate student, Joekook Kim, may have changed that. These two researchers made three significant advances with their new material.

     First, they discovered a new combination of manganese oxide that improves performance. Second, they devised a low-temperature process to create the material, instead of the conventional high-temperature ceramic procedures. Third, although they synthesized the material in a solution medium, they did not use water since the presence of even trace amounts of water is unacceptable in lithium batteries.

     The National Science Foundation funded the work, which took about a year. The material and process is being patented.

     Dr. Manthiram can be reached at 512-471-1791