Great things from small things

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Tesla is revolutionizing batteries for electric bicycles and it has to do with the recent changes at the leading battery cell makers BMZ, Panasonic, Sony, Samsung and LG. Together these five make out some 80% of the world production of battery cells.

These five cell makers used to supply huge numbers of cylindrical shaped cells to the IT industry until the industry changed completely from using cylindrical shaped cells to flat shaped batteries which are now used in laptops, tablets and smartphones. Tesla placing huge orders for cylindrical shaped cells pushed battery cell makers to new highs.

Europe’s largest battery maker BMZ boss introduced the 21700 cell that will revolutionize electric bicycles. In particular as the 21700 cell not only offers a much prolonged lifetime but also batteries with a much bigger capacity for more power and pedal-supported mileage.

The extraordinary features that the 21700 battery cell brings to e-bikes will be the new standard in e-bike batteries. And that this new standard will already be available in 2018.

Instead of the current 18650 (18mm diameter and 65mm high) cell size the 21700 cell is 21mm diameter and 70mm high. The bigger size is bringing a bigger output; up to 4.8Ah. With that capacity the battery lifetime is extended from the current some 500 charging cycles up to 1,500 to 2,000 cycles.

BMZ, together with another global battery player, managed to develop batteries that offer a much longer lifespan thanks to the fact that the new batteries create less heat and has up to 60% more capacity.

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Researchers have developed a solar paint that can absorb water vapour and split it to generate hydrogen – the cleanest source of energy.

The paint contains a newly developed compound that acts like silica gel, which is used in sachets to absorb moisture and keep food, medicines and electronics fresh and dry.

But unlike silica gel, the new material, synthetic molybdenum-sulphide, also acts as a semi-conductor and catalyses the splitting of water atoms into hydrogen and oxygen.

Lead researcher Dr Torben Daeneke, from RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, said: “We found that mixing the compound with titanium oxide particles leads to a sunlight-absorbing paint that produces hydrogen fuel from solar energy and moist air.

“Titanium oxide is the white pigment that is already commonly used in wall paint, meaning that the simple addition of the new material can convert a brick wall into energy harvesting and fuel production real estate.

“Our new development has a big range of advantages,” he said. “There’s no need for clean or filtered water to feed the system. Any place that has water vapour in the air, even remote areas far from water, can produce fuel.”

His colleague, Distinguished Professor Kourosh Kalantar-zadeh, said hydrogen was the cleanest source of energy and could be used in fuel cells as well as conventional combustion engines as an alternative to fossil fuels.

“This system can also be used in very dry but hot climates near oceans. The sea water is evaporated by the hot sunlight and the vapour can then be absorbed to produce fuel.

“This is an extraordinary concept – making fuel from the sun and water vapour in the air.”


More information: Torben Daeneke et al, Surface Water Dependent Properties of Sulfur-Rich Molybdenum Sulfides:
Electrolyteless Gas Phase Water Splitting, ACS Nano (2017). DOI: 10.1021/acsnano.7b01632

Provided by: RMIT University

Could a new material involving a carbon nanotube and graphene hybrid put an end to the dendrite problem in lithium batteries? (Credit: Tour Group/Rice University)

The high energy capacity of lithium-ion batteries has led to them powering everything from tiny mobile devices to huge trucks. But current lithium-ion battery technology is nearing its limits and the search is on for a better lithium battery. But one thing stands in the way: dendrites. If a new technology by Rice University scientists lives up to its potential, it could solve this problem and enable lithium-metal batteries that can hold three times the energy of lithium-ion ones.

Dendrites are microscopic lithium fibers that form on the anodes during the charging process, spreading like a rash till they reach the other electrode and causing the battery to short circuit. As companies such as Samsung know only too well, this can cause the battery to catch fire or even explode.

“Lithium-ion batteries have changed the world, no doubt,” says chemist Dr. James Tour, who led the study. “But they’re about as good as they’re going to get. Your cellphone’s battery won’t last any longer until new technology comes along.”

Rice logo_rice3So until scientists can figure out a way to solve the problem of dendrites, we’ll have to put our hopes for a higher capacity, faster-charging battery that can quell range anxiety on hold. This explains why there’s been no shortage of attempts to solve this problem, from using Kevlar to slow down dendrite growth to creating a new electrolyte that could lead to the development of an anode-free cell. So how does this new technology from Rice University compare?

For a start, it’s able to stop dendrite growth in its tracks. Key to it is a unique anode made from a material that was first created at the university five years ago. By using a covalent bond structure, it combines a two-dimensional graphene sheet and carbon nanotubes to form a seamless three-dimensional structure. As Tour explained back when the material was first unveiled:

“By growing graphene on metal (in this case copper) and then growing nanotubes from the graphene, the electrical contact between the nanotubes and the metal electrode is ohmic. That means electrons see no difference, because it’s all one seamless material.”

Close-up of the lithium metal coating the graphene-nanotube anode (Credit: Tour Group/Rice University)


Envisioned for use in energy storage and electronics applications such as supercapacitors, it wasn’t until 2014, when co-lead author Abdul-Rahman Raji was experimenting with lithium metal and the graphene-nanotube hybrid, that the researchers discovered its potential as a dendrite inhibitor.

“I reasoned that lithium metal must have plated on the electrode while analyzing results of experiments carried out to store lithium ions in the anode material combined with a lithium cobalt oxide cathode in a full cell,” says Raji. “We were excited because the voltage profile of the full cell was very flat. At that moment, we knew we had found something special.”

Closer analysis revealed no dendrites had grown when the lithium metal was deposited into a standalone hybrid anode – but would it work in a proper battery?

To test the anode, the researchers built full battery prototypes with sulfur-based cathodes that retained 80 percent capacity after more than 500 charge-discharge cycles (i.e. the rough equivalent of what a cellphone goes through in a two-year period). No signs of dendrites were observed on the anodes.

How it works

The low density and high surface area of the nanotube forest allow the lithium metal to coat the carbon hybrid material evenly when the battery is charged. And since there is plenty of space for the particles to slip in and out during the charge and discharge cycle, they end up being evenly distributed and this stops the growth of dendrites altogether.

According to the study, the anode material is capable of a lithium storage capacity of 3,351 milliamp hours per gram, which is close to pure lithium’s theoretical maximum of 3,860 milliamp hours per gram, and 10 times that of lithium-ion batteries. And since the nanotube carpet has a low density, this means it’s able to coat all the way down to substrate and maximize use of the available volume.

“Many people doing battery research only make the anode, because to do the whole package is much harder,” says Tour. “We had to develop a commensurate cathode technology based upon sulfur to accommodate these ultrahigh-capacity lithium anodes in first-generation systems. We’re producing these full batteries, cathode plus anode, on a pilot scale, and they’re being tested.”

The study was published in ACS Nano.

Source: Rice University

Electrodes are critical parts of every battery architecture — charge too fast, and you can decrease the charge-discharge cycle life or damage the battery so it won’t charge anymore. Scientists have built a new design and chemistry for electrodes. Their design involves advanced, nanostructured electrodes containing molybdenum disulfide and carbon nanofibers (Advanced Energy Materials, “Pseudocapacitive charge storage in thick composite MoS2 nanocrystal-based electrodes”). These composite materials have internal atomic-scale pathways. These paths are for both fast ion and electron transport, allowing for fast charging.

Fast Charge batteries vid47065

Battery electrodes made of a molybdenum disulfide nanocrystal composite have internal pathways to allow lithium ions to move quickly through the electrode, speeding up the rate that the battery can charge. The key features in the structure that enable the flow of the lithium ions are the small, 20-40 nanometer, diameter of the nanocrystals (in contrast, human hairs are about 100,000 nanometers in diameter) coupled with the porosity and planar lamellar pathways shown in the electron micrograph. (Image: Sarah Tolbert, University of California, Los Angeles) 
The new battery electrodes provide several benefits. The electrodes allow fast charging. They also have stable charge/discharge behavior, so the batteries last longer. These electrodes show promise for practical electrical energy storage systems.
New battery electrodes based on nanostructured molybdenum disulfide combine the ability to charge in seconds with high capacity and long cycle life. Typical lithium-ion batteries charge slowly due to slow diffusion of lithium ions within the solid electrode.
Another type of energy storage device (a.k.a., pseudocapacitors), which has similarities to the capacitors found in common electrical circuits, speeds up the charging process by using reactions at or near the electrode surface, thus avoiding slow solid-state diffusion pathways.
Nanostructured electrodes allow the creation of large surface areas so that the battery can work more like a pseudocapacitor. In this work at the University of California, Los Angeles, scientists made nanostructured electrodes from a molybdenum disulfide-carbon composite.
Many electrodes are based on metal oxides, but because sulfur more weakly interacts with lithium than oxygen, lithium atoms can move more freely in the metal sulfide than the metal oxide. The result is a battery electrode that shows high capacity and very fast charging times.
The novel electrodes deliver specific capacities of 90 mAh/g (about half that of a typical lithium-ion battery cathode) charging in less than 20 seconds, and retain over 80 percent of their original capacity after 3,000 charge/discharge cycles. Capacities of greater than 180 mAh/g (similar to cathodes in conventional lithium-ion cells) are achieved at slower charging rates.
The results have exciting implications for the development of fast-charging energy storage systems that could replace traditional lithium-ion batteries.
Source: U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science

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