A Breakthrough in Smart Electrochromic Zn-ion Batteries for Next-Generation Energy Storage

The growing market for smart and wearable electronic devices has sparked immense interest in developing next-generation energy storage systems with energy storage capabilities and color-changing properties. However, current electrochromic devices have limited electrical conductivity, resulting in low efficiency in electron and ion mobility, as well as low storage capacities. These batteries have consequently been restricted to use in flexible and wearable devices.

A groundbreaking development in the field was made by a joint research team led by Professor Il-Doo Kim from the KAIST Department of Materials Science and Engineering (DMSE) and Professor Tae Gwang Yun from the Myongji University Department of Materials Science and Engineering. They announced the creation of a smart electrochromic Zn-ion battery that not only possesses energy storage capabilities but can also visually represent its charging and discharging processes. The key innovation lies in the incorporation of an electrochromic polymer anode embedded with a “π-bridge spacer,” which significantly enhances electron and ion mobility efficiency.

This remarkable research was published in Advanced Materials on August 3 under the title, “A π-Bridge Spacer Embedded Electron Donor-Acceptor Polymer for Flexible Electrochromic Zn-Ion Batteries.”

Batteries with electrochromic properties have the ability to visually depict their charged and discharged states using colors. These batteries can be utilized as display devices, effectively reducing energy consumption for indoor cooling by regulating solar absorbance. The research team successfully crafted a flexible and electrochromic smart Zn-ion battery that maintains its excellent electrochromic and electrochemical properties, even when exposed to the atmosphere for extended periods and subjected to mechanical deformations.

In order to maximize the efficiency of electron and ion mobility, the team designed and synthesized the world’s first π-bridge spacer-incorporated polymer anode. The addition of π-bonds enhances the mobility of electrons within the structure, which accelerates ion movement and maximizes ion adsorption efficiency, ultimately improving energy storage capacity.

By incorporating a π-bridge spacer in anode-based batteries, the team provided ample room for rapid ion movement. This allows for fast charging, an impressive zinc-ion discharging capacity of 110 mAh/g (a 40% improvement over previous reports), and a 30% increase in electrochromic function. The battery switches from a dark blue color to transparent when charged or discharged.

With the potential application of transparent flexible battery technology in smart windows, these windows would exhibit darker colors during the day as they absorb solar energy. They could serve as a futuristic energy storage solution, capable of blocking out harmful UV radiation and replacing traditional curtains.

Professor Il-Doo Kim expressed his excitement about the development, stating, “We have created a polymer incorporated with a π-bridge spacer and successfully built a smart Zn-ion battery with excellent electrochromic efficiency and high energy storage capacity.” He goes on to mention that this technology moves beyond the conventional concept of batteries solely as energy storage devices. Instead, it can be seen as a cutting-edge energy storage system that propels innovation in smart batteries and wearable technologies.

The breakthrough in smart electrochromic Zn-ion batteries is a significant step forward in the realm of next-generation energy storage. With improved electron and ion mobility efficiency, these batteries hold tremendous potential for various applications in flexible and wearable devices. Additionally, the possibility of employing transparent flexible battery technology in smart windows opens up new avenues for energy storage and management. This exciting development paves the way for accelerated advancements and innovation in the field of smart batteries and wearable technologies.


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