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Taking charge

Dr Wei Kong Pang
Institute for Superconducting & Electronic Materials

Understanding electrode materials to improve and innovate battery technology

The lithium-ion battery (LIB) has changed the world as we know it. With its relatively high energy density, long life cycle and low cost, LIB technology enabled the development of mobile phones, laptops, and electric vehicles, among many other technologies.

Today, more and more is being demanded of lithium-ion batteries, with technological advancements outpacing the capacity of LIB for energy and power. Dr Wei Kong Pang is at the leading edge of research which aims to improve the chemical and structural reaction within batteries for better performance and potentially, entirely new energy storage systems.

The working principle of a metal-ion rechargeable battery is to store energy in chemical form by using charge-balancing metal ions such as Lithium (Li+), Sodium (Na+) and Potassium (K+) that reversibly insert into the electrodes, which are the source of a battery’s power.

Dr Pang’s research focus is on understanding electrode materials by combining battery electrochemistry and materials crystallography. That is, the relationship between the structure and chemical properties of the electrode within a battery at the atomic and molecular scales.

“The structure and chemistry of the electrodes determines their functional mechanism, and the removal and insertion of Li ions can significantly affect structure. It’s a very complex process, underpinning the performance of the whole battery,” Dr Pang says.

By understanding this complex relationship between structure and electrochemistry, Dr Pang aims to be able to take batteries to the next level by meeting demand for better electrochemical performance, safer operation and longer durability.

He is assisted in his research through partnerships with national and international experts, including Professor Ru-shi Liu from the National University Taiwan on the structure and crystallography of functional materials, Dr Zhengzhang Lu from Industrial Technology Research Institute, Taiwan on the current issues of large-format lithium-ion batteries, and Professor Vanessa Peterson, from the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation on the ‘in-operando’ mechanistic study of electrode materials in functioning batteries.

This work studying battery properties when in use is the focus of research funded under a four-year Australian Research Council Future Fellowship received by Dr Pang in 2016.

“With expertise in battery and crystallography fields, I believe it’s my responsibility to contribute my knowledge, combining the structure and electrochemistry, to the development of high energy, high power storage,” Dr Pang adds.