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Longer Lasting Cell Phone Batteries

Phosphorene is attracting a lot of attention lately in the energy and electronics industries, and for good reason.

The theoretical capacity of the two-dimensional material—which consists of a single layer of black phosphorus—is almost seven times that of anode materials currently used in lithium-ion batteries. That could translate into real-world benefits such as significantly greater range for electric vehicles and longer battery life for cell phones.

There are a couple of strikes against phosphorene though.

Commercially available black phosphorus is costly, at roughly $1000 per gram, and it breaks down quickly when it’s exposed to air. Researchers from Western University teamed up with scientists from the Canadian Light Source (CLS) at the University of Saskatchewan on a pair of studies to determine if they could address both issues.

In the first project, the research team applied a novel process to produce a low-cost black phosphorus from inexpensive (approximately $0.10/gram), low-purity red phosphorus—reducing the cost by almost 300%. The resulting black phosphorus had nearly the same purity and electronic properties as that made using traditional methods and high-purity red phosphorus, which is worth around $40/gram. 

Drastically slashing the cost of manufacturing black phosphorus means their results are scalable.

“The low price makes it possible to realize the future large-scale application of black phosphorus and phosphorene in energy- and electronic-related fields, such as nano-photonics, nanoelectronics, optoelectronics, secondary batteries, and electrocatalysts,” said Li, who is lead researcher from Western.

With the second study, the researchers wanted to better understand, at nanoscale and in real time, where degradation (oxidization) starts on phosphorene, and how it spreads.

While previous research has documented that degradation does indeed occur, this study was the first to clearly image the process in detail. The team used a number of different synchrotron techniques at the CLS to collect these images.

The researchers found that phosphorene begins to break down at the thinnest regions first, and that the degraded regions accelerate the breakdown of adjacent regions.

According to Li, their discovery paves the way for developing strategies to protect phosphorene when it is used in electronics and other devices.

“It makes it possible to prepare air-stable phosphorene-based electronic devices and energy-related devices.”

Researcher Andy (Xueliang) Sun credits the CLS for playing a critical role in both studies. With the support of CLS staff scientists, he and the team used three different beamlines: SXRMB, SM and VLS-PGM.

“Compared with other resources in the world, the user support from the CLS is fantastic,” said Sun. “Without the help of the CLS, we could not have combined several different synchrotron techniques in the two works. Moreover, conducting the in-situ studies would not have been possible without the help of the beamline scientists.”

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