Researchers elaborated special numerical methods and theoretical approaches to trace the dynamics of particles in RTILs. They discovered that, most of the time, positive and negative ions reside together in neutral pairs or clusters, forming a neutral substance which cannot conduct electricity. From time to time however, positive and negative ions emerge by pairs as charged particles in different parts of the liquid, making the liquid conductive.
Importance of liquid fragility for energy applications of ionic liquids | Scientific Reports
The emergence of these ions is caused by thermal fluctuations. Suddenly and randomly the ions receive a portion of energy from the surrounding fluid, which helps them to release themselves from the 'paired' neutral state and become free charged particles.
This state is only temporary, however: after some time, they will return back to their paired neutral state as they join with another ion of opposite charge. As this happens, another ionic pair elsewhere in the liquid is splitting into free charged particles, thereby sustaining the conductivity of the liquid and its electrical current in a kind of ongoing 'relay race' of charges. This is similar to the behaviour observed in crystalline semiconductors, where the positive and negative charge carriers also emerge in pairs due to thermal fluctuations.
It is therefore expected that a rich variety of physical phenomena observed in semiconductors might also be revealed in RTILs in the future. Just as these phenomena in semiconductors are exploited for many applications, this research reveals that there may be potential too for RTILs to be exploited in new and innovative ways, with possible uses ranging from supercapacitors, fuel cells and batteries to various power devices.
Professor Brilliantov, Chair in Applied Mathematics and the University of Leicester's lead on the project, said: "Understanding of the conductivity mechanism of RTILs seems to open new horizons in designing ionic liquids with the desired electrical properties.
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Modelling reveals new insight into the electrical conductivity of ionic liquids
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