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Wax and Soap Combo Could Lead to Cheaper Lithium-Ion Batteries

researchers at pacific northwest national laboratory have developed a simple method for testing a wide variety of low cost materials for use in lithium-ion batteriesResearchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have discovered that cleanliness is next to cheapliness. They have developed a simple one-step method, based on wax and soap, that will enable researchers to develop a wide variety low-cost materials for use in lithium-ion batteries.

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The high price of lithium-ion batteries is a big roadblock to mass commercialization of electric vehicles, so any success in bringing down costs at the research and development end could have a significant impact on the consumer market and help the way for introducing electric fleets into more businesses.

Wax and Soap and Electrodes

The researchers fround that paraffin is an excellent medium on which to grow materials for use in electrodes, a key component of lithium-ion batteries (paraffin is a waxy solid consisting of alkanes, which are organic compounds composed of hydrogen and carbon).   Researchers at Pacific figured out that conventional electrodes were losing capacity due to the thickness of the material, but the problem was how to grow smaller particles arranged in neat crystals.  They hit upon a method for growing crystals on melted paraffin with a form of soap called oleic acid, then slowly raising the temperature until the wax and soap boil off (for a colorful description of the way lithium-ion batteries work, check out “The Recharge Tale” in Pacific Lab’s press release).

Many Paths to Cheaper Battery

The research also lead to a a significant improvement in the storage capacity of a test battery, but only if the battery was charged over a long period of time, which means that it is not suitable for many consumer uses. However, the paraffin-and-soap growing method itself has value, as a research tool for testing and developing different low-cost metals for use in electrodes.  Other low-cost developments are on the way, too, not only in terms of the materials used but also in the manufacturing process.  For example, International Battery uses a water based method for creating the slurry of binders that coat the electrodes, which saves 85% on waste management expenses.

Image (altered): Flakes of lithium manganese phosphate by Daiwon Choi, PNNL on flickr.com.

 
 
 
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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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