New Plastic Conducts Electricity Like Metal

Scientists with the University of Chicago have discovered a way to create a material that can be made like a plastic, but conducts electricity more like a metal. The research, published Oct. 26 in Nature, shows how to make a kind of material in which the molecular fragments are jumbled and disordered, but can still conduct electricity extremely well.

This goes against all of the rules we know about for conductivity—to a scientist, it’s kind of seeing a car driving on water and still going 70 mph. But the finding could also be extraordinarily useful; if you want to invent something revolutionary, the process often first starts with discovering a completely new material.

In principle, this opens up the design of a whole new class of materials that conduct electricity, are easy to shape, and are very robust in everyday conditions,” said John Anderson, an associate professor of chemistry at the University of Chicago and the senior author on the study. “Essentially, it suggests new possibilities for an extremely important technological group of materials,” said Jiaze Xie (PhD’22, now at Princeton), the first author on the paper.

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Low Cost Batteries for Renewable Energy Sources

As the world builds out ever larger installations of wind and solar power systems, the need is growing fast for economical, large-scale backup systems to provide power when the sun is down and the air is calm. Today’s lithium-ion batteries are still too expensive for most such applications, and other options such as pumped hydro require specific topography that’s not always available. Now, researchers at MIT and elsewhere have developed a new kind of battery, made entirely from abundant and inexpensive materials, that could help to fill that gap. The new battery architecture, which uses aluminum and sulfur as its two electrode materials, with a molten salt electrolyte in between, is described today in the journal Nature, in a paper by MIT Professor Donald Sadoway, along with 15 others at MIT and in China, Canada, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

I wanted to invent something that was better, much better, than lithium-ion batteries for small-scale stationary storage, and ultimately for automotive [uses],” explains Sadoway, who is the John F. Elliott Professor Emeritus of Materials Chemistry. In addition to being expensive, lithium-ion batteries contain a flammable electrolyte, making them less than ideal for transportation. So, Sadoway started studying the periodic table, looking for cheap, Earth-abundant metals that might be able to substitute for lithium. The commercially dominant metal, iron, doesn’t have the right electrochemical properties for an efficient battery, he says. But the second-most-abundant metal in the marketplace — and actually the most abundant metal on Earth — is aluminum. “So, I said, well, let’s just make that a bookend. It’s gonna be aluminum,” he says.

Source: https://news.mit.edu/