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Silver materials may unlock golden opportunities, new research suggests

Media release

Curtin research has uncovered a series of new silver materials that possess a dynamic range of properties, which could potentially open up new avenues in solid-state batteries, anti-bacterial agents for medical use, and flexible touchscreens in smart phones.

Recently published in Nature Communications, the research was carried out by synthesising a new class of silver boranes and testing their properties using transmission electron microscopy (TEM) at Aarhus University in Denmark.

Lead researcher Mark Paskevicius, Australian Research Council Future Fellow in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Curtin University, explained that it was rare to find a new multifunctional material with such a diverse range of technical applications.

“Silver compounds share a rich history in technical applications including photography, photocatalysis, antimicrobial agents and cloud seeding,” Dr Paskevicius said.

“However after synthesising a new class of silver materials, we found they showed an exceptionally rapid metallic silver growth, in real time, when analysed through TEM imaging,” Dr Paskevicius said.

“They also tested to show exceptional room temperature silver-ion conductivity, semiconductivity and structural dynamics.

“These interesting properties open up avenues in a wide-range of fields including photocatalysts, nanowire production and solid-state ionics.”

Mr Paskevicius explained that the use of the materials as photocatalysts – compounds to accelerate chemical reactions by light – could have potential applications in waste-water treatment or in catalytic hydrogen production from water with sunlight.

“The materials were shown to be stable in water, which could lead to new options for photocatalytic water splitting,” he said.

He continued to explain the materials may also show promise for a new method of generating metallic nanowires.

“Silver nanowires have many applications, including as anti-bacterial agents in medical use or as part of conductive films that could be used in flexible touchscreens in smart phones.”

He also said the materials showed promise in being used in next-generation silver-based, solid-state batteries.

“Their characteristic of rapid metallic growth is similar to the process we see in the battery charging and recharging process.

“Silver is an expensive material, and is also quite heavy, but there are advantages to exploring batteries made from these new materials, noting their stability and ability to operate under high voltages.

“My future research in solid-state electrolytes for battery applications will focus on lighter and cheaper elements including lithium, sodium, magnesium and zinc,” Dr Paskevicius said.

The paper Multifunctionality of silver closo-boranes can be found on the Nature Communications website https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms15136