New method could speed up creation of eco-friendly materials

(Upper) Schematic illustration of the high-temperature synthesis method normally used for material synthesis and (bottom) the ion-exchange method suitable for synthesizing metastable phases. Credit: Issei Suzuki.

Researchers at Tohoku University have developed a groundbreaking way to speed up the creation of new, environmentally friendly materials using a method called ion-exchange.

This approach, described in a study published in the journal Chemistry of Materials, uses computer simulations to predict how to make new inorganic materials more efficiently.

Traditionally, scientists make inorganic materials by heating raw substances to extremely high temperatures so they break down into atoms, which then form new materials.

This high-temperature reaction method is limited because it only produces the most stable crystal structures and cannot create materials that break down under high heat.

In contrast, the ion-exchange method works at much lower temperatures. It involves swapping out ions (charged particles) in existing materials with similar ions from other materials to create new substances.

This low-temperature approach allows scientists to develop compounds that are impossible to make with the high-temperature method.

Despite its benefits, the ion-exchange method hasn’t been widely adopted because it typically requires a lot of trial and error to find the right materials combinations.

However, the team at Tohoku University, led by Issei Suzuki, a senior assistant professor at the Institute of Multidisciplinary Research for Advanced Materials, has changed that with their new computer simulation technique.

The researchers used simulations to explore potential ion-exchange reactions between a type of oxides known as ternary wurtzite-type oxides and various halides and nitrates. They looked at 42 different combinations using substances like sodium, lithium, copper, and silver oxides, along with halides and nitrates.

The simulations categorized the reactions into three outcomes: successful ion exchange, no ion exchange, and partial ion exchange, where a mixed material is formed. The team then confirmed these predictions by conducting real experiments, which matched the simulation results in all 42 cases.

This new predictive method eliminates the need for repetitive experiments, significantly reducing the time and energy spent on discovering new materials. It opens up the possibility of creating advanced materials that are more efficient and environmentally friendly.

Professor Suzuki is optimistic about the future applications of this technology. “Our findings allow us to predict whether ion exchange will work and to design these reactions without having to rely on trial and error,” he said.

“We hope to use this method to find materials with exciting new properties that can help solve energy challenges.”

This breakthrough could pave the way for faster development of innovative materials crucial for sustainable energy technologies.

Source: Tohoku University.