Researchers from ETH Zurich have uncovered a method to produce nanocrystals from mined metals using amalgamation, with the potential for the new compositions to be used in lithium-ion batteries.
The team, led by researchers Maksym Yarema and Vanessa Wood, found that through amalgamation, two or more metals can be combined to create intermetallic nanocrystals.
Amalgamation is a processing technique often used in gold operations that occurs when a liquid metal penetrates a solid metal.
The research team brought amalgamation down to a nanoscale by dispersing nanocrystals counting metals such as silver.
The atoms of the second metal are added in molecular form to create intermatallic nanocrystals used in data storage, medicine and lithium-ion batteries.
Such a discovery has expanded the possibilities when it comes to nanocrystals, a particle that, in principle, can be created via tens of thousands of different combinations but prior to this point, has only been manifested through a few such pairings.
According to the researchers, there is great potential for technological applications due to the exact controllability of the composition and size of the nanocrystals together with the possibility to combine the metals almost at will.
“Because the amalgamation synthesis of nanocrystals enables so many new compositions, we cannot wait to see them at work in improved catalysis, plasmonics or lithium-ion batteries,” Yarema said.
ETH’s new amalgamation method is relatively straight-forward – one simple enough that it came as a surprise to the researchers that it hadn’t been discovered before.
When it comes to nanocrystals, the ETH team used the process at the nanoscale, whereby the reaction begins with the dispersion of nanocrystals made up of a single metal.
“We are amazed how efficient the amalgamation is at the nanoscale. Having one liquid metal component is the key to fast and uniform alloying within each nanocrystal,” Yarema said.
In 2020, the value of Australia’s battery industries was $1.3 billion, according to an Accenture report for the Future Battery Industries Cooperative Research Centre (FBICRC).
However, Accenture director for strategy practice Toby Brennan said Australia’s battery industry has the chance to be worth either $4.1 billion or $7.4 billion by 2030.
Last month, Covalent Lithium received approvals to enter the construction and operational phases at the Mt Holland lithium project in Western Australia.
The Mt Holland project is comprised of Mt Holland mine, a spodumene concentrator and the lithium hydroxide refinery which is located in Kwinana.
Covalent is aiming to produce 45,000 tonnes of lithium hydroxide per year once the plant is completed.