Laboratory testing of the company’s novel prototype cathode material have yielded a set of critical data that translates into significant lithium-ion battery performance projections for BioSolar to target.
Super Battery Technology
David Lee | BioSolar
Please tell us a bit about the recent announcement regarding Super Battery Technology?
In August 2014, BioSolar filed an international patent entitled, “a multicomponent-approach to enhance stability and capacitance in polymer-hybrid supercapacitors” which protects the basis of the company’s supercapacitor technology. The same chemistry described in this patent later became the foundation for the company’s Super Battery technology.
In early 2016, the company also filed corresponding national phase patents in the U.S., Canada, Europe, China, Japan, and South Korea. The patent ensures that BioSolar not only protects its intellectual property, but that it retains control of future licensing efforts that may one day represent a significant source of revenue.
In June 2016, the company filed our second international patent entitled, “high capacity cathode for use in supercapacitors and batteries and methods for manufacturing such cathodes” which fully protects the company’s Super Battery technology in its entirety as well as its manufacturing methods.
How much energy storage capacity/density does today’s lithium-ion batteries have?
Today’s typical high capacity lithium-ion batteries have specific energy (energy per unit mass, or the metric for energy stored in a given weight of the battery) of 100-265Wh/kg depending on the priorities of devices incorporating the battery. Similarly, specific power is related to how fast the energy can be charged or discharged from a given battery weight – a crucial metric especially for electric vehicle or personal electronic applications.
The tradeoff is usually between specific energy vs. specific power, but another important tradeoff is specific energy vs. battery safety. In general, the higher the specific energy, the more costly safety provisions (to prevent thermal runaway) the battery must possess for safe operation. Batteries with high specific energy, such as the one in Tesla Model S, typically require more cooling and overcharge protection provisions.
How much will your technology improve on this?
Laboratory testing of the company’s novel prototype cathode material have yielded a set of critical data that translates into significant lithium-ion battery performance projections for BioSolar to target. There is much more work to be done before the company can commercialize its cathode technology, but the laboratory data suggests that the use of this cathode material in lithium-ion batteries can produce specific energy well over 300Wh/Kg.
What is needed to drive energy storage to the next stage?
Lithium batteries are gradually becoming widely accepted as ideal electrochemical storage systems in renewable energy plants, as well as power systems for hybrid and electric vehicles.
The fastest growing market for use of batteries is the automotive sector. Today's lithium-ion batteries, although suitable for small-scale devices, do not yet have sufficient energy or lifespan for use in electric vehicles (EVs) that would match the performance of internal combustion vehicles. I suspect that specific energy of 350Wh/Kg or greater is needed to meet the performance goals of a future generation of all-electric vehicles.
More importantly, high costs of batteries represent a significant challenge and barrier to mass adoption for automotive manufacturers that produce electric vehicles. Currently, the cost of storing electrical energy using lithium-ion batteries is above $500/kWh. The cost must be reduced below $100/kWh for EVs to compete with conventional gasoline-powered vehicles.
Discuss current R&D efforts to increase the energy storage capacity, and the challenges associated with these efforts.
In recent years, major advances have been made in lithium-battery technology in the area of new materials, designs, improved surface structure, and chemical reactions. It is also expected that doubling the specific energy is achievable for current lithium-ion system technologies. Energy capacity improvement by factors of five or more may be possible for lithium–oxygen systems, ultimately leading to our ability to confine extremely high potential energy in a small volume without compromising safety. In order to accomplish this, existing technological barriers will have to be overcome, some of which may require a decade or more time frame.
This pursuit of higher specific energy and higher specific power materials for lithium-ion batteries constitute the bulk of current research activities. An example of such research efforts is on improving the anode capacity, thus increasing the specific energy of the lithium battery. It is interesting to note, however, that the storage capacity of today's state-of-the-art lithium-ion battery is also limited by the storage capacity of its cathode. Therefore, doubling the anode capacity without increasing the cathode capacity only results in 50% increase in specific energy. While this is still a desirable improvement especially if achievable in the short term, the potential of increasing the cathode capacity could eventually provide more substantial impact on specific energy.
If adopted on a large scale, how much impact will the addition of energy storage have on the cost of electricity to consumers?
Lithium-ion batteries are expected to dominate the market for at least another decade as there are currently no competing alternatives with their versatility, especially that for powering mobile and portable devices; and for buffering the fluctuating supply of intermittent energy sources such as wind and solar.
The addition of large scale energy storage will absolutely lower the cost of generating and delivering electricity to consumers, in that it provides the ability to cheaply store electrical energy generated during the daytime of abundant sunlight generated by utility scale photovoltaic solar, or certain times of the day where wind farms can produce optimal electricity. In other words, it provides highly effective means of buffering the fluctuating supply of intermittent energy sources such as wind and solar.
Large scale energy storage can replace conventional means of power generation equipment required during to distribute energy during peak demand. I believe lithium-ion batteries can easily replace the need for these equipment required during even the most energy dependent hours of the day. The response time needed during peak demand is much quicker using batteries than conventional gas turbine equipment and will ultimately help preserve the integrity of the utility scale electrical energy generation system.
As always, it is not easy to predict how much of the cost savings will translate into lowered cost of electricity to consumers. It will depend on factors such as government mandates to share the cost savings with end customers as well as other competing energy sources that individual electricity consumers have access to.
How can the industry overcome the challenges facing energy storage?
In addition to achieving higher specific energy, reducing the cost of storing electric energy is an equally important subject. As mentioned earlier, the high costs of producing batteries are a significant challenge and barrier to mass adoption for automotive manufacturers that produce electric vehicles. Currently, the cost of storing electrical energy using lithium-ion batteries is above $500/kWh, which must be reduced below $100/kWh for electric vehicles to compete with conventional fuel vehicles.
In general, there are three ways to improve lithium-ion batteries to reduce cost. At the material level, these batteries require materials that support high power and a wide State of Charge (SOC) range, minimal impedance growth, and calendar aging. At the cell level, there are many needs for new chemistry and electrode designs permitting shorter and thicker electrodes. In general, chemistries and designs that enable lower overall electrode area per battery and minimize battery size, will ultimately reduce cost. At the manufacturing level – there exists an opportunity for identification and adoption of advanced processing technologies to significantly increase coater speed and/or other unit operations.
"Moore's Law" is the observation that, over the history of computing hardware, the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit has doubled approximately every two years. However, Moore’s Law does not apply to batteries. The scale of economy based on conventional intercalation chemistry tends to result in only incremental cost reduction, and there exists no evidence today to support the specific energy of batteries increasing in any regular fashion. Indeed, most significant improvement in battery performance has come about from changing chemistry rather than from ongoing improvement within a given chemistry.
How is BioSolar addressing today’s battery needs?
BioSolar’s current research program focuses on improving the capacity and lowering the cost of storing electrical energy with lithium-ion batteries. In addition to developing technologies to commercialize in the short term, the company’s longer term product development objective is to completely abandon the traditional intercalation chemistry in favor of a new redox chemistry with the use of low-cost conducting polymer based electrode materials.
The company’s proprietary cathode material under consideration a combination of commercially available polymers and other raw materials to make up the redox-supporting cathode structure. This polymer blend can then be coated over a metal substrate using a simple proprietary coating process. This process is more cost-effective in comparison to currently employed, expensive and energy-intensive slurrying and calendering for existing cathodes in lithium-ion batteries.
BioSolar is developing a breakthrough technology to double the storage capacity, lower the cost and extend the life of lithium-ion batteries.A battery contains two major parts, a cathode and an anode, that function together as the positive and negative sides. Today's state-of-the-art lithium-ion battery is limited by the storage capacity of its cathode, while the anode can store much more. Inspired by nature, we are developing a novel cathode based on inexpensive conductive polymers and organic materials that can fully utilize the storage capacity of conventional anodes. By integrating our high capacity, high power and low-cost cathode with conventional anodes, battery manufacturers can immediately create a super lithium-ion battery that can double the range of a Tesla, power an iPhone for 2 days straight, or store daytime solar energy for nighttime use.
The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of AltEnergyMag
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