Machine Invents New Li-ion Battery

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Wildcat Discovery Technologies, which is a startup company from San Diego, California, recently discovered a new, higher-capacity lithium-ion battery chemistry using a method known as high throughput screening. This could boost storage capacity of lithium-ion batteries (used in electric cars and portable electronic devices) by over 25% and extend the driving range of electric vehicles or make the vehicles cheaper.

High throughput screening is the process of testing many potentially useful substance combinations to find the solution to a technological problem much faster than traditional experimentation by hand would. Lithium ion batteries operate by the movement of lithium ions between their electrodes which are known as the cathode and anode. The cathode is the positively charged electrode, and the anode the negative. When discharging (supplying power to devices), lithium ions travel from the anode to cathode of the battery, and in reverse when charging. So the charging process is driven by electricity, and the discharge process generates electricity. Lithium ion batteries do not store electricity, nor do other batteries.

Wildcat’s Problem and Electrolyte Testing

Lithium cobalt phosphate electrodes have the potential to store more energy than traditional lithium-ion battery electrodes, but they operate at an unusually high voltage that would destroy traditional electrolytes. They addressed this by using high throughput screening to rapidly test it with 4,000 electrolytes until one was found to be near-suitable. This was done in only four months. That is equivalent to an average of 1,000 electrolytes tested per month, or 33 prototype batteries per day which really is extremely fast compared to traditional hand-executed experimentation. Remember that this does not necessarily mean that 33 battery chemistries were tested per day, but, that is the daily equivalent of 1,000 per month.

Wildcat’s chief scientific officer said that another advantage of this method is that it actually tests the electrodes using the electrolyte — this is almost like constructing an actual battery, reducing the probability of false positives. In other words, reducing the number of failures. What looks like it could work, may not necessarily work. He also added that even if a material appears to be mediocre, it may improve considerably when mixed with other materials in a cell.

Excess Storage & Related Benefits Possible

The new material has the potential to store in excess of 25% more than traditional lithium ion batteries. This means that they can store 25% more energy per kg of batteries. This also means that it could extend the driving range of electric vehicles due to the fact that 25% more energy per kg means 25% less weight per unit of storage capacity, extend the electric-mode range of hybrid electric vehicles, or it could be used to decrease the cost of the battery bank because it can be a lower capacity (which is cheaper) due to the fact that it is lighter, since heavier batteries require more power to be moved because they reduce vehicle efficiency.

A 25% reduction in battery capacity could translate to fiscal savings of up to $3,500 USD per 14,000 Wh battery bank (which is 14 kWh or kilowatt-hours), or $0.125 to $0.25 USD per Wh (Watt-hour) of capacity because lithium ion batteries cost 50 cents to $1 per Wh. You can multiply that by the number of Watt-hours in a battery pack/bank that you are familiar with if you please. 1 kWh = 1,000 Wh, therefore you would multiply the kWh figure by 1,000 and then the result by $0.25.

This is a new technology which has problems that need to be worked out, such as durability issues which most need to be improved.

h/t Technology Review

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Image: screenshot of Wildcat Discovery Technologies website

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Nicholas Brown

Has a keen interest in physics-intensive topics such as electricity generation, refrigeration and air conditioning technology, energy storage, and geography. His website is:

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