Lithium and Nanotubes—Another Aspect of the Battery Revolution

Lithium and Nanotubes—Another Aspect of the Battery Revolution

Electric cars need better batteries. That was the stumbling block that stopped Thomas Alva Edison. He invented the sulfuric acid and lead car batter that has been used for more than a century, but it wasn’t enough to compete with the Auto cycle internal combustion engine. Now, potential shortages of fossil fuels are giving latter-day Edisons another shot at moving the world with electric cars.

One example is that Science Daily carried a story about another research initiative that could make a significant boost to the power of lithium batteries. The article (“Using Carbon Nanotubes in Lithium Batteries Can Dramatically Improve Energy Capacity,” described plating alternate plus and minus layers of carbon nanotubes. (It’s so ironic that this hoped-for revolution might be built on techniques that would be familiar to electroplating technicians for two centuries.) Plating with different charges aligns the nanotubes for better operation rather than random clumping of the microscopic materials.

The plated nanotube electrodes could (theoretically!) increase lithium batter power per unit mass tenfold. Granted, this was labscale research, and “production” electrodes would likely be considerably less. Still, even a fourfold increase in power density would translate to the magic 200-mile range of a comparable mass of engine and gas tank for an internal-combustion system.

An earlier research report (Battery Of The Future: New Storage Material Improves Energy Density Of Lithium-Ion Battery, used a silicon gel on the quite typical graphite substrate of lithium batteries to cushion expansion associated with intake of lithium ions and contraction with their removal.

Many of these research initiatives will stop at dead ends of physical failure or economic failure with excessive amounts of expensive catalysts or fabrication expenses. Still it’s something Edison would have appreciated. A century later there is a cornucopia of new technologies available to experiment with, but still it comes back to, “I have found a thousand ways that do not work, and I am closer to what does.” The revolution is coming.

It’s definitely not guaranteed, but … stay tuned!


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