In the race to find materials of ever increasing thinness, surface area and conductivity to make better performing battery electrodes, a lump of clay might have just taken the lead.
Materials scientists from Drexel University’s College of Engineering invented the clay, which is both highly conductive and can easily be molded into a variety of shapes and sizes. It represents a turn away from the rather complicated and costly processing—currently used to make materials for lithium-ion batteries and supercapacitors—and toward one that looks a bit like rolling out cookie dough with results that are even sweeter from an energy storage standpoint.
With the publication of their recipe for “conductive MXene clay” in the Dec. 4 edition of Nature, the researchers suggest a significant shift in the way electrodes for storage devices are produced.
The clay, which already exhibits conductivity on par with that of metals, can be turned into a film—usable in an electrode—simply by rolling or pressing it.
“Both the physical properties of the clay, consisting of two-dimensional titanium carbide particles, as well as its performance characteristics, seem to make it an exceptionally viable candidate for use in energy storage devices like batteries and supercapacitors,” said Yury Gogotsi, PhD, Distinguished University and Trustee Chair professor in the College of Engineering, and director of the A.J. Drexel Nanomaterials Institute, who is a co-author of the paper. “The procedure to make the clay also uses much safer, readily available ingredients than the ones we used to produce MXene electrodes in the past.”
The key to the utility of this material, according to Michel Barsoum, PhD, Distinguished professor in the College of Engineering and one of the inventors of MXenes, is in its form.
“As anybody who has played with mud can attest, clay is hydrophilic –water-loving,” Barsoum said. “Clay is also layered and when hydrated, the water molecules slide between the layers and render it plastic that in turn can be readily shaped into complex shapes. The same happens here; when we add water to MXene, water penetrates between the layers and endows the resulting material with plasticity and moldability. Graphene—a material widely studied for use in electrodes- on the other hand, is conductive but does not like water—it is hydrophobic. What we discovered is a conductive two-dimensional layered material that also loves water. The fact that we can now roll our electrodes rapidly and efficiently, and not have to use binders and/or conductive additives renders this material quite attractive from a mass production point of view.”
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