Just a couple of years ago, researchers in the energy storage field were hungrily eyeballing a goal of $100 per kWh for the next generation of low cost, high capacity batteries that could enable electric vehicles to compete with gasmobiles, and it looks like a company called BioSolar is set to blow right past it with a new “super battery” that could achieve $54 per kWh in commercial development. What else did you expect from a company that has a Nobel Prize under its hood?
BioSolar And The Nobel Prize
Before we dig into the new energy storage news, here’s a brief rundown on one of BioSolar’s three scientific advisers, Alan Heeger, who a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2000:
Widely known for his pioneering research in and the co-founding of the field of semiconducting and metallic polymers, Professor Heeger is also the recipient of numerous awards, including the Nobel Prize in Chemistry (2000), the Oliver E. Buckley Prize for Condensed Matter Physics, the Balzan Prize for the Science of New Materials, the President’s Medal for Distinguished Achievement from the University of Pennsylvania, the Chancellor’s Medal from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and honorary doctorates from universities in the United States, Europe and Asia…Prof. Heeger has more than 900 publications in scientific journals and more than 50 patents…
Okay, so on to the energy storage news. BioSolar has a research agreement with the University of California, Santa Barbara, and earlier this week the company and the school reinforced a previous international patent application by jointly filing applications in the US, Canada, and Japan for something called a “multicomponent-approach to enhance stability and capacitance in polymer-hybrid supercapacitors.”
Biomimicry Secrets Of The Super Battery
The new patent milestone is critical because it involves the nut of the new energy storage breakthrough. Here is BioSolar CEO David Lee enthusing over the possibilities:
Rarely does one technology exhibit such potential across so many energy sectors spanning solar, electric vehicles, and traditional charging applications for personal technology use…
The BioSolar energy storage approach solves two core problems of conventional lithium-ion battery technology. One is the cost of materials, and the other is the limited capacity of the cathode compared to the anode (the cathode and anode are the parts of the battery that receive and discharge the current).
BioSolar has solved the cost and capacity problem in one blow, by developing an inexpensive polymer for the cathode:
Our novel high capacity cathode is engineered from a polymer, similar to that of low-cost plastics used in the household. Through a smart chemical design, we are able to make the polymer hold an enormous amount of electrons.
…The estimated raw materials cost of our cathode is similar to that of inexpensive plastics, with a very high possible energy density of 1,000 Wh/kg.
BioSolar’s research also indicates that the new polymer enables batteries to charge and discharge rapidly while far outlasting the lifecycle of conventional lithium-ion energy storage.
According to the company, conventional batteries drop down to 80 percent of their storage capacity after 1,000 charge/discharge cycles. When the new polymer is used in a supercapacitor, BioSolar’s labwork has demonstrated a lifespan of 50,000 cycles without degradation (a supercapacitor is a type of energy storage device that discharges quickly).
It looks like BioSolar has some more work to do before it is ready to publish some definitive conclusions about its energy storage solution for EV batteries, utility scale storage, and other applications that require slower, steadier discharge. However, the company is confident that it is heading down the right track.
Beyond The $100 Energy Storage Mark
BioSolar also seems to be on the right track with its manufacturing model. According to the company, the cathode is manufactured using an energy efficient, non-toxic system, and it is designed as a drop-in solution for existing battery manufacturers, so no retooling is needed. Factoring in the lower cost of the new cathode, BioSolar anticipates a new EV battery, for example, that has double the capacity of a Tesla Model S battery while costing four times less.
The bottom line: BioSolar estimates that if you combine its “Super Cathode” in a full battery with a typical graphite anode, you’ll arrive at $54 per kWh. Here’s the comparison BioSolar developed based on a combination of its internal work, published data, and a model used by Samsung’s Energy Laboratory:
A couple of years ago, CleanTechnica noted that the new Tesla battery gigafactory was on track to reach the $100 mark, so if the BioSolar R&D bears fruit you might see some retooling going on over there (side note for Tesla fans: the company recently announced that it is discontinuing its 85 kWh battery for the model S).
And…if you’re wondering why the “Solar” is in BioSolar’s name, the company first crossed the CleanTechnica radar back in 2010 for its work in bio-based backing materials for solar panels, made partly from castor bean resin of all things.
Image credits (screenshots): top via US Department of Energy, bottom via BioSolar.