Analysis of a manganese-based crystal by scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has produced the first clear picture of its molecular structure. The findings could help explain the magnetic and electronic behavior of the whole family of crystals, many of which have potential for use in batteries.
The family of crystals it belongs to has no formal name, but it has three branches, each of which is built around manganese, cobalt or iron—transition metals that can have different magnetic and charge properties. But regardless of family branch, its members share a common characteristic: They all store chemical energy in the form of sodium, atoms of which can easily flow into and out of the layers of the crystal when electric current is applied, a talent potentially useful in rechargeable batteries.
Other members of this family can do a lot of things in addition to energy storage that interest manufacturers: Some are low-temperature superconductors, while others can convert heat into electricity. The trouble is that all of them are, on the molecular level, messy. Their structures are so convoluted that scientists can't easily figure out why they do what they do, making it hard for a manufacturer to improve their performance.
NIST: NCNR Neutrons Highlight Possible Battery Candidate, Chad Boutin