Newly Discovered Copper and Graphite Combo Could Lead to More Efficient Li-Ion Batteries

May 24, 2018 | News Brief | A first-of-its-kind copper and graphite combination discovered in basic energy research at the US Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory could have implications for improving the energy efficiency of Li-ion batteries, which include these components.

“We’re pretty excited by this, because we didn’t expect it,” said Pat Thiel, an Ames Laboratory scientist and Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and Materials Science and Engineering at Iowa State University. “Copper doesn’t seem to interact strongly or favorably with graphitic materials at all, so this was a big surprise. It really challenges us to understand the reasons and mechanisms involved.”

The scientists bombarded graphite in an ultra-high vacuum environment with ions to create surface defects. Copper was then deposited on the ion-bombarded graphite while holding it at elevated temperature, at 600 K to 800 K. The synthetic route created multilayer copper islands that are completely covered by graphene layer(s).

“Copper is a highly conductive material but susceptible to oxidation. Being able to successfully embed it just underneath the surface of graphite protects the copper, and suggests a number of potential applications, including battery technology,” said Research Assistant Ann Lii-Rosales.

The research is a continuation of a discovery from last year, when the researchers encapsulated dysprosium, a magnetic rare-earth metal, underneath a single layer of graphene. Encouraged by their success, they began testing the possibilities of the method with other elements, including copper. The research is further discussed in the paper, “Formation of Multilayer Cu Islands Embedded beneath the Surface of Graphite: Characterization and Fundamental Insights,” authored by Ann Lii-Rosales, Yong Han, James W. Evans, Dapeng Jing, Yinghui Zhou, Michael C. Tringides, Minsung Kim, Cai-Zhuang Wang, and Patricia A. Thiel.

This work was supported primarily by the US Department of Energy Office of Science. This work was also supported in part by a grant of computer time at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Centre (NERSC), a DOE Office of Science User Facility.