Energy storage and energy generation technology is improving thanks to the work of Professor Maria Forsyth and her group from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science.
"What we do in my group is look at electric conductivity in ionic materials. This ionic conductivity is important for optimising how well a battery will work or how well a fuel cell will work in different devices," she says.
The ionic materials that the group is looking at include solids called organic ionic plastic crystals. "The reason we call them that is despite being crystalline they still have a high degree of dynamics, both in terms of rotation or reorientation of the ions in the lattice sites but more importantly in terms of diffusion of ions within the lattice."
The fact that the ions are able to diffuse through the lattice means that they are able to carry an electrical current. This makes the plastic crystals ideal for use in batteries, but more research needs to be done to understand exactly how they work and which materials are most effective.
"What we've been doing is using simulation to understand how the dynamics occur and how the structure can affect those dynamics," says Professor Forsyth. "What the molecular dynamics modelling really helped us understand is that in the crystal itself there may be areas of high order and areas of low order. The ions in that low order region are more dynamic, they contribute more to the conductivity."
The team is focused on increasing their understanding of ionic crystals and liquids to achieve their goal of designing better battery materials. Gradually, they are starting to look at being able to predict new ionic materials that would suit their purposes.
Professor Forsyth says: "That's where I want to see us go, what ion or what material should we be trying to synthesise? More rational design of electrolyte materials and electrolyte-electrode interfaces is the next big challenge."