Scientists have discovered how to get a solid material to act like a liquid without actually turning it into liquid, opening a new world of possibilities for the electronic, optics and computing industries.
Researchers at University of Central Florida in the US took COF-5, a nano sponge-like, non-flammable human-made material and pressed it into pellets the size of a pinkie nail.
They noticed something odd when they looked at its X-ray diffraction pattern. The material’s internal crystal structure arranged in a strange pattern.
Graduate student Demetrius A Vazquez-Molina and his chemistry professor Fernando Uribe-Romo then turned the pellets on their side and ran the X-ray analysis again.
The crystal structures within the material fell into precise patterns that allow for lithium ions to flow easily – like in a liquid.
The findings are significant because a liquid is necessary for some electronics and other energy uses. But using current liquid materials sometimes is problematic.
For example, lithium-ion batteries are among the best batteries on the market, charging everything from phones to hover boards.
However, they tend to be big and bulky because a liquid must be used within the battery to transfer lithium ions from one side of the battery to the other. This process stores and disperses energy.
That reaction creates heat, which has resulted in cell phones exploding, hover boards bursting into flames, and even the grounding of some airplanes a few years ago that relied on lithium batteries for some of its functions.
However, if a nontoxic solid could be used instead of a flammable liquid, industries could really change, Uribe-Romo said.
“We need to do a lot more testing, but this has a lot of promise,” he said.
“If we could eliminate the need for liquid and use another material that was not flammable, would require less space and less packaging, that could really change things. That would mean less weight and potentially smaller batteries,” said Uribe-Romo.
Smaller, nontoxic and nonflammable materials could also mean smaller electronics and the ability to speed up the transfer of information via optics, researchers said.
That could mean innovations to communication devices, computing power and even energy storage, they said.