Synthetic Carbon Anodes Will Boost Mobile Device Lithium-Ion Batteries

First Posted: Apr 02, 2013 10:37 PM EDT

A new kind of synthetic carbon anode which is designed to improve the storage capacity of lithium-ion batteries was developed by the start-up company EnerG2, writes the MIT Technology Review. EnerG2 announced in the last week of March 2013 that its new anode design would increase energy density by up to 30 percent, without even requiring a new battery design or a different manufacturing process.

Many approaches to increase capacity and density of batteries work with new materials or chemistry, but these may be more expensive and difficult to implement, especially in large scale production. The demand for these technologies is there, especially with the booming mobile devices market and the growing electric vehicle sector.

EnerG2’s new lithium-ion battery anode has the advantage to be made with the same material as current anodes, carbon. It is made of a form of carbon in which the atoms have a disorganized, amorphous structure, compared to the crystalline structure of graphite, the material normally used for anodes. But the company's “hard carbon,” as they call their material, can store 50 percent more energy per area on its surface than graphite.

One of the disadvantages of hard carbon anodes, which was a focus of recent development, was the tendency to lose storage capacity when the battery containing it is first charged. EnerG2 has now been able to engineer an anode with a level of loss that is acceptable for battery makers, according to CEO Rick Luebbe.

EnerG2's process controls the chemical reactions that occur as raw carbon is converted into a finished product. That means it can optimize the surface area, pore size, and pore density of carbon for different applications. The company said that it already started production of the nanostructured carbon anodes, and demonstrated that it can manufacture at scale. They received a $21 million federal grant in 2010 to build a factory in Albany, Oregon, where the production is done since early last year. Manufacturing cost of the anode is about same as for currently used anodes, but the material itself is about 20 percent more expensive.

All being said, it looks good for continuous progress in battery density as well, apart from ever increasing computing power and display quality in mobile devices.

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