Building a better battery proves
Material Genome Project’s metal
Posted September 15, 2010
If you spend any time working on a laptop or using a smart phone, you’ve noticed that computers are lighter, smaller and more powerful than ever. But battery capacities have had a tough time keeping pace with the added drain. Much of that battery lag stems from a lack of new energy-storing materials.
The challenge of building a better battery illustrates a fundamental bottleneck in developing new materials for a variety of applications, including hydrogen storage, fuel cells and solar cells. The traditional model for any new chemistry has involved researchers’ hatching an educated guess, synthesizing compounds in a laboratory, then testing them to see if they work.
But even under the best circumstances, developing a new material for an application and optimizing it for commercial use typically takes two decades, says Anubhav Jain, a graduate student in Gerbrand Ceder’s group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A Department of Energy Computational Science Graduate Fellowship supports Jain’s work.
Earlier this summer, at the SciDAC 2010 meeting in Chattanooga, Tenn., Jain presented the MIT researchers’ progress in what they’re calling the Materials Genome Project. It’s a computational encyclopedia that will allow chemists and materials scientists to reduce the guesswork by focusing experiments on compounds that show the most promising properties.
Graphs like these let researchers visualize the tradeoffs between the energy density and safety of potential new battery materials. Click image to enlarge and for more information.
Scientists have reported developing nearly 100,000 new inorganic compounds – but have done little to tease out their potentially useful properties. The Materials Genome Project could help fill those information gaps. It has a two-pronged approach: The researchers use computational data to estimate properties, which are compiled in a Web database. And they predict the behavior of materials yet to be synthesized.
High-throughput computing allows Ceder’s group to evaluate materials quickly. Like the methods medicinal chemists use to screen for hundreds of drug candidates, the MIT researchers run approximately 200 calculations at the same time.