The most popular battery technology, lithium-ion batteries, may have just received a big shot in the arm.  Scientists have found in a new study that adding conductive carbon fillers to an electrode material would lead to improved battery performance with higher electrochemical utilization. This could allow lithium-ion batteries to overcome one of the constraints to achieving higher energy density while allowing reversible energy storage at the same time. 

Any breakthrough in lithium-ion battery design, or any battery design for that matter, could prove to be the turning point in the energy transition, allowing for increased use of electric vehicles (EVs) and helping the growth in energy storage deployment necessary to support the rising renewable energy capacity around the world.  

The lithium-ion battery is currently the technology of choice for both EV manufacturers and energy storage developers, and battery costs have significantly declined over the past decade due to new chemistries and economies of scale in manufacturing. 

Yet, significant advances in the energy transition and the EV revolution will depend not only on further cost cuts, especially in storage solutions, but also on cost-effective improvements in battery performance and battery design to make electrodes with high energy density. 

New research published this week in Applied Physics Reviews, by AIP Publishing of the American Institute of Physics (AIP), found that fillers made of carbon that conduct electricity could be the solution to the optimum battery design. 

The optimum battery design involves thick electrode structures that increase energy density. However, the current designs have poor lithium-ion transport, which is a hurdle to using thick electrodes. 

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To facilitate the transport of the lithium ions, the researchers studied three types of carbon fillers—single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs), graphene nanosheets, and a substance known as Super P, a type of carbon black particle produced during oxidation of petroleum precursors. Super P is the most commonly used conductive filler in lithium-ion batteries. 

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The researchers added the three types of fillers to a type of electrode material known as NCM and containing nickel, cobalt, and manganese. 

The research showed that the SWCNTs were the best conductive filler for NCM electrodes. 

“Our findings suggest that the integration of SWCNTs into the NCM electrode facilitate ion and charge transfer. This will lead to higher electrochemical utilization, especially at high rates of discharge,” Guihua Yu, one of the authors of the study, said in a statement. 

The study “demonstrates the superiority of 1D SWCNTs as the conductive filler in the electrodes, which provides new insights for the design of electrodes with high energy/power density,” the authors wrote in their research. 

Improvement in lithium-ion battery performance with higher energy density could further boost the development of the most widely-used battery technology, supporting the growth in EVs and renewable energy. 

Li-ion prices for EVs have decreased by nearly 90 percent since 2010, while for stationary applications, including electricity grid management, they have dropped by around two-thirds over the same period, a joint study by the International Energy Agency (IEA) and European Patent Office showed in September 2020.   

Led by Li-ion battery technology, patenting activity in electricity storage, especially for EVs, has grown much faster than patenting activity in general over the past decade, the study found.  

Since the launch of mass-market electric vehicles, the chemistry of the NMC (lithium nickel cobalt manganese oxide) cathode has seen the most innovative breakthroughs related to Li-ion batteries, the IEA and the European Patent Office said. 

Research into other types of battery chemistry, such as lithium-oxygen batteries, or structural batteries in which the material is the energy storage device, could one day lead to additional viable commercial solutions for EVs and energy storage. 

The world will need every breakthrough, including in technology other than the Li-ion battery, if it is to see EVs and renewables thrive. 

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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