It seems like just yesterday we did a story about Hyundai investing in US solid state battery company Ionic Materials. Oh, wait. That actually was yesterday! And yet here it is tomorrow already and there is fresh news on the battery front. Researchers at Norway’s Department of Energy Technology (IFE) in Kjeller say they have perfected a way to substitute silicon for the graphite commonly used in the anodes of lithium ion batteries.
The discovery will lead to batteries that can power an electric car for 600 miles or more, the researchers claim. “You can say we have found the X factor we’ve been looking for. This has enormous potential and is something scientists around the world are trying to make,” says IFE research director Arve Holt, according to a report by Bergens Tidende.
Pure silicon has ten times more capacity than graphite but it loses capacity faster than graphite. The researchers have found a way to mix silicon with other elements to create an anode that is stable and long lasting and which has three to five times higher capacity than a conventional graphite anode. Laura Brodbeck of Kjeller Innovation works to commercialize research results from IFE. She says the new technology is already being tested by both material manufacturers and battery manufacturers to determine if it can be marketed successfully.
“In order to reach consumers, the new material and batteries with the technology must be manufactured on an industrial scale. This is something we are working with together with our partners, “says Brodbeck, who declined to name the companies involved with testing the new technology. She did say that some Norwegian companies are involved as well as companies in other countries. “Kjeller Innovation and IFE are actively working to make the technology available as quickly as possible and we aim to enter into a production agreement with one or more players during the project period,” says Brodbeck.
“We have tested that it works on a lab scale with good results. Now that we have received support from the Research Council in the FORNY2020 program, we will test it further with international industry partners and see if it works in their industrial processes. The project that will focus on bringing the new material to the market — we call it SiliconX — is becoming very exciting to work towards such big goals together with Kjeller Innovation,” says Marte O. Skare, one of the researchers in the project.
Professor Ann Mari Svensson of the Department of Materials Technology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology finds the results of the research interesting but adds a note of caution. “They have achieved good results, but when it comes to industrialization of such research, costs are important. It is possible to make better batteries than those on the market today, but they are often too expensive to pay off,” she says.
As usual with stories like this, the prospects are tantalizing but we are still a long way from being able to buy one of these batteries at your local AutoZone store. But you can almost feel the pace of development in battery technology accelerating day by day if not moment by moment. We certainly do live in interesting times.