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Sokolov Group Published in Energy Storage Mater. and ACS Macro Lett.

The Sokolov Group recently published their work “Anomalously high elastic modulus of a poly(ethylene oxide)-based composite electrolyte” in Energy Storage Materials.

The practical use of lithium metal anodes in solid-state batteries requires a polymer membrane with high lithium-ion conductivity, thermal/electrochemical stability, and mechanical strength. The primary challenge is to effectively decouple the ionic conductivity and mechanical strength of the polymer electrolytes.

They report a remarkably facile single step synthetic strategy based on in-situ crosslinking of poly(ethylene oxide) (xPEO) in the presence of a woven glass fiber (GF). Such a simple method yields composite polymer electrolytes (CPE) of anomalously high elastic modulus up to 2.5 GPa over a broad temperature range (20 °C – 245 °C) that has never been previously documented.

An unsupervised machine learning algorithm, K-mean clustering analysis, was implemented on the hyperspectral Raman mapping at the xPEO/GF interface. Using such a unique means, we show for the first time that the promoted mechanical strength originates from xPEO and GF interactions through dynamic hydrogen and ionic bonding. High ionic conductivity is achieved by the addition plasticizer (e.g. tetraglyme), where trifluoromethanesulfonate anions are tethered to the xPEO matrix and Li+ cations are favorably transported through coordination with the plasticizer.

Further, stringent galvanostatic cycling tests indicates the CPE can be stably cycled for >3000 h in a Li-metal symmetric cell at a moderate temperature (nearly 1500 Coulombs/cm2 Li equivalents), outperforming most of the PEO-based electrolytes. The GF reinforced CPE reported here has multifunctional uses, such as solid electrolytes for all solid-state batteries and membranes for redox-flow batteries.

Although the focus of this study is on lithium-based batteries, the results are equally promising for other alkali metal based batteries such as sodium and potassium.

The Sokolov Group also had their work “Turning Rubber into a Glass: Mechanical Reinforcement by Microphase Separation” published in ACS Macro Letters.

Supramolecular associations provide a promising route to functional materials with properties such as self-healing, easy recyclability or extraordinary mechanical strength and toughness. The latter benefit especially from the transient character of the formed network, which enables dissipation of energy as well as regeneration of the internal structures. However, recent investigations revealed intrinsic limitations in the achievable mechanical enhancement.

This manuscript presents studies of a set of telechelic polymers with hydrogen-bonding chain ends exhibiting an extraordinarily high, almost glass-like, rubbery plateau. This is ascribed to the segregation of the associative ends into clusters and formation of an interfacial layer surrounding these clusters. An approach adopted from the field of polymer nanocomposites provides a quantitative description of the data and reveals the strongly altered mechanical properties of the polymer in the interfacial layer. These results demonstrate how employing phase separating dynamic bonds can lead to the creation of high-performance materials.