Don’t expect to find cobalt-aluminum electrodes in a battery anytime soon, however. Although the new battery material is superior in voltage and costs to conventional electrodes, the conservatism of the power-storage business means that it’s not likely to be commercialized in the near future. Still, the success of Ceder’s group marks a significant advance because it means a material has been designed on the computer and found actually to have the predicted qualities.
Scientists are far from being able to plunk themselves down at a keyboard, tap in some desired properties, and have a new substance pop out. Ceder points out that electronic and optical properties are relatively amenable to calculation, whereas other important characteristics, like hardness or corrosion resistance, are more difficult to compute. Those properties, for one thing, depend on events occurring over a wide range of size and time scales (see sidebar: “Cracking a Tough Problem”). “There are still a lot of problems you can’t address by these methods,” he says.