AI makes new material that could dramatically change how batteries work

Microsoft systems were able to scan through 32 million potential batteries, company says

Andrew Griffin
Tuesday 09 January 2024 16:36 GMT
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An artificial intelligence breakthrough could dramatically change batteries, according to Microsoft.

The company used AI systems to screen more than 32 million battery candidates. From that, they were able to make a new material that could transform how batteries work.

The new kind of battery might reduce lithium requirements by around 70 per cent, reducing the reliance on a metal that is expensive and ethically problematic. But Microsoft also says that it also a major breakthrough for AI, showing how the technology could be used for real and transformative breakthroughs that can be found much more quickly than ever before.

Last year, Microsoft released a new system called Azure Quantum Elements, which is built to use AI and other cutting-edge technologies for scientific discoveries.It has already been used by companies including pharmaceutical researchers to test possible materials.

But Microsoft said that it wanted to prove that the technology could identify a new material that could be synthesised and helpful. It chose batteries in part because they would prove useful in everyday life, it said.

Battery technology has been a key part of research, especially in recent years, given they offer the potential for more sustainable forms of energy as well as being key to technologies such as self-driving cars and more.

“The development of novel batteries is an incredibly important global challenge,” said Brian Abrahamson, the chief digital officer at PNNL, in a statement. “It has been a labor-intensive process. Synthesizing and testing materials at a human scale is fundamentally limiting.”

Microsoft then screened more than 32 million potential materials and found more than 500,000 stable candidates. It reported those results last August but noted that screening materials in that way is usually only the start of scientific breakthroughs.

This time around, Microsoft used the AI system and worked with the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to identify a material that was both unknown and not present in nature. It showed potential to make resource-efficient batteries, it said.

Scientists from the laboratory then synthesised the material and made it into a working prototype. that demonstrated that it really worked in practice, and that it has a potential to be a new way of storing energy.

A paper describing the work, ‘Accelerating computational materials discovery with artificial intelligence and cloud high-performance computing: from large-scale screening to experimental validation’, is published on the arXiv.

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