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Tailoring Nanoscale Properties to Enable Advanced Energy Storage Materials


The work described herein revolves around two main themes. The first is the object of study – batteries. Diverse forms of energy storage continue to evolve as humans aim to maximize convenience, efficiency, and sustainability in the progress of modern society. Batteries in particular have become entrenched in our day-to-day lives due to the proliferation of mobile electronics. The array of potential battery applications, such as backup power, electric vehicles, and smart-grids, however, has lead to the development of many different chemistries and systems, all of which involve highly distinct phenomena. This thesis provides an in-depth analysis of two such systems – the lithium-ion battery and the soluble lead flow battery – to highlight the difficulties in choosing one technology for all energy storage needs.

The second theme aims to challenge the gratuitously positive public perception of nanotechnology. An explosion in nanoscience as a distinct field or focus of study has occurred with the turn of the century. Many major research institutes now boast having a department or center dedicated to the topic. Reputable publishers have created high-impact journals around the theme. Conferences and funding organizations aim to specifically attract scientists contributing towards the subject. Prior to the 21st century, however, the buzz around nano hardly existed. Searching Thomson Reuters’ Web of Science for titles using the word nano, during the entire 20th century, leads to only a few thousand results. In the first fifteen years since, the same search criteria leads to an increase of two orders of magnitude more results.

The high profile garnered by nano-related themes has in large part taken root because of the general assumption that untapped and advantageous properties exist at the nanoscale. Such properties are relatively overgeneralized, however, and are typically only presented in benefiting light. In the case of batteries, the specific nanoscale phenomena occurring in each system are distinct; what may be desirable in one electrochemical environment may be undesirable in another. This thesis aims to carefully identify and characterize the nanoscale processes occurring in the batteries described, to contribute more science and less hype to the budding field of nanoscience.

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