25th Anniversary Article: Polymer–Particle Composites: Phase Stability and Applications in Electrochemical Energy Storage



Polymer–particle composites are used in virtually every field of technology. When the particles approach nanometer dimensions, large interfacial regions are created. In favorable situations, the spatial distribution of these interfaces can be controlled to create new hybrid materials with physical and transport properties inaccessible in their constituents or poorly prepared mixtures. This review surveys progress in the last decade in understanding phase behavior, structure, and properties of nanoparticle-polymer composites. The review takes a decidedly polymers perspective and explores how physical and chemical approaches may be employed to create hybrids with controlled distribution of particles. Applications are studied in two contexts of contemporary interest: battery electrolytes and electrodes. In the former, the role of dispersed and aggregated particles on ion-transport is considered. In the latter, the polymer is employed in such small quantities that it has been historically given titles such as binder and carbon precursor that underscore its perceived secondary role. Considering the myriad functions the binder plays in an electrode, it is surprising that highly filled composites have not received more attention. Opportunities in this and related areas are highlighted where recent advances in synthesis and polymer science are inspiring new approaches, and where newcomers to the field could make important contributions.