Electric vehicles (EVs) are becoming increasingly popular around the globe. According to the Pew Research Center, about 7% of U.S. adults say they’ve purchased an EV, with more than a third suggesting they are very likely to buy one. Electric vehicles do offer a benefit to the environment–they produce less emissions during their actual operations if in fully electric mode, and, in terms of overall life cycle, have a better emissions profile compared to conventional combustion engines.
A key problem EVs face, however, are the batteries needed to operate them. Conventional batteries have proven risky and ineffective. You’ve probably seen headlines about fires caused by EV batteries; that’s because traditional batteries used in EVs are very susceptible to damage. Liquid electrolyte is used to move ions. However, the smallest amount of damage to the battery can cause a leak and trigger an explosion, making these batteries an unsustainable option for EVs. As a result, the EV industry has looked to building solid-state batteries, but these are expensive and difficult to make.
In response to this challenge, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have turned to a common, familiar material to build more sustainable, safe, effective batteries: rubber.
According to a study published in Nature, researchers examined how the use of 3D synthetic rubbers could be used to ensure a structurally sound, long-lasting battery with a low risk of fire or explosion.
The challenge with lithium-ion batteries was in how the ions moved in the battery, so any new approach would need a stable yet efficient way to carry out this process. The unique 3D structure of the rubber-based batteries appeared to allow for more efficient movement of ions in the battery, which will increase the energy output and produce more mileage for EVs. A simple polymerization process was used to synthesize the batteries.
Overall, rubber offers several advantages, though the key ones are (1) its uses in many other products, making it a widely available and cheap option, and (2) its durability, which, in addition to its cost, could allow researchers to lead the way in the production of cheap, reliable EV batteries.