Electron microscope image of self-healing polymers

Scientists at the University of Illinois (U of I) believe they've stumbled upon a breakthrough that could eventually lead to the development of a lithium-ion battery that, much like some parts of the human body, actually heals itself. The researchers took an in-depth look at rechargeable li-ion batteries used in everyday items – cellphones, laptop computers and digital cameras – and discovered that those batteries tend to degrade over time.

Scott White, a University of Illinois materials engineer, stated, "There are many different types of degradation that happen, and fixing this degradation could help us make longer-lasting batteries." White claims that a battery's anode, which swells while charging and then shrinks during the discharge cycle, can eventually crack and that, in due time, is what can lead to a battery's demise.

After extensive testing, the U of I scientists discovered that by embedding tiny self-healing polymers that tear open and release indium gallium arsenide (a liquid metal alloy) the microscopic cracks in the anode could be filled in, thus rejuvenating the battery and potentially extending its useful life.

[Source: UPI, Green Car Congress, Wired]

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