War Is Here, So Let’s Talk About EV Batteries, Silicon, & Graphene

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Whether it takes days, weeks, months, or years, Russia’s murderous march into Ukraine will end, and the climate crisis will not. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the prospects for a graphene-silicon EV battery mashup that will not stop the revolting brew of ego and insanity now on display, but will help keep catastrophic climate change at bay.

Silicon For Better EV Batteries

Although human nature is stuck in its own rut, science is getting better and better all the time, and so are EV batteries.

The emerging iteration of EV batteries involves deploying silicon in the electrodes, instead of graphite.

Aside from improving battery range, the main advantage is to speed up EV battery charging times, which would make a huge difference in terms of encouraging drivers to give up their gasmobiles.

The idea didn’t seem so promising back in 2017. The US Department of Energy issued a report comparing different pathways for improving EV batteries, and sounded a cautionary note on silicon.

“Most cells employing a significant amount of silicon provide (at most) 500 deep discharge cycles and less than two years of calendar life,” they wrote, adding that “The characteristics of low temperature performance and extreme fast charge are lacking in all chemistries.”

Silicon For Better EV Batteries, With Graphite

Despite that sour assessment the Energy Department was not ready to give up, not with the prize of a tenfold increase in the capacity of the electrode in sight.

In July of 2020, the agency reserved $19 million out of a $139 funding pot for silicon-related battery R&D, and last year a commercial version of the technology appeared on the horizon.

Meanwhile, a movement is afoot to develop hybrid EV batteries that incorporate both graphite and silicon, which leads us to believe that the next step would be a silicon-graphene mashup.

The Graphene Solution

For those of you new to the topic, graphene is a fairly recent discovery. It’s a 2-d form of carbon with outsized strength and unique properties. Developers have barely scratched the surface of its application to clean tech, but the pace has been picking up.

Being the thickness of just one atom or so, graphene sheets are difficult to handle. One approach is to form them into nanoscale tubes, similar to carbon nanotubes but with pumped-up strength and conductivity.

The Luxembourg-based firm OCSiAl, already bills itself as the world’s largest manufacturer of graphene nanotubes, and it has a new production facility and R&D center in the works, to be located in Differdange. Once complete, the expansion will increase the company’s research and production payroll by 300 employees.

“The facility would further cement OCSiAl’s strategic advantage as the leading supplier of the supermaterial and enhance the geographic accessibility of graphene nanotubes to the growing EV components markets in Europe,” the company enthused in a press statement earlier this week, noting that it already provides graphene nanotubes to several Li-ion battery makers in serial production. On the R&D level, the company also has relationships with a dozen leading tire and coatings producers.

Impact On European EV Market

Whether paired with silicon in EV batteries or not, OCSiAl anticipates multiple uses for its graphene nanotubes in the electric vehicle market.

“When added to a material, nanotubes create a strong, conductive skeleton inside the material that results in a substantial improvement to the material’s targeted properties,” OCSiAl enthused. “The use of elastomers, thermoplastics and thermosets, reinforced with graphene nanotubes, will lead to the development of lightweight “smart” car bodies; safe, energy-efficient tires; and long-lasting, high-performance batteries for EVs.”

If you have any thoughts about where silicon fits into that area, drop us a note in the comment thread.

Meanwhile, on the battery side alone, OCSiAl is planning for a production capacity big enough to supply up to 10 million EV batteries yearly, which is pretty ambitious considering that total EV sales for 2021 only topped out at 6.5 million, according to the company’s estimate.

Then again, OCSiAl notes that location is on its side. Konstantin Notman, Chief Executive Officer of OCSiAl Group, notes that Luxembourg sits between Belgium, France, and Germany, in proximity to leading auto factories, chemical works, and tire factories.

“With the new facility, we’ll be able to supply these leading industries with advanced materials for the next generation of EV components,” he said.

Let’s Hear From The Leading Global Energy Suppliers Now

Speaking of location, now that Russia has invaded Ukraine with an assist from Belarus, perhaps it is time for the world’s leading energy suppliers to speak up.

The danger of leaving both nuclear weapons and a significant portion of the global fossil energy supply in the hands of an murderous psychopath are all too evident, especially in regards to Europe’s dependence on Russian gas. An army of heat pumps will help resolve that situation eventually, but in the meantime it’s a global all-hands-on-deck to stop Russia from doing more damage than it has already.

The US made a good start by sanctioning everyone involved in the Nordstream II gas pipeline project. It’s way past time for private sector stakeholders to weigh in, especially those headquartered in the US.

Looking at you, ExxonMobil. The company is fond of celebrating its 25-year relationship with Russia, especially the the Sakhalin-1 project Production Sharing Agreement, the deal for which was inked in June of 1995.

“This marked the beginning of one of the largest foreign direct investment projects in Russia. The Sakhalin-1 project implementation required the use of the most advanced technologies, and multiple industry records were set as a result of the search for the most effective solutions with respect to project economics and environmental protection,” ExxonMobil explains through its subsidiary, Exxon Neftegas Limited.

Oil production did not begin until 2005, and after that all sorts of milestones were passed. Exxon Neftegas is particularly excited about reaching its planned peak production of 34,000 tons per day in just two years, and then surpassing it.

“A peak is usually followed by a production decline, but Sakhalin-1 reached a new peak of 41 thousand tons per day in 2018! This was made possible by the phased field development, geotechnical measures, and numerous innovative engineering solutions,” Exxon Neftegas says.

“Sakhalin-1 was the first project in Russia to implement year-round oil delivery by tankers, including in winter when the sea is covered with ice,” they add.

Back in 2017 ExxonMobil received a fine of $2 million for violating US sanctions imposed on Russia in 2014, after the invasion of Crimea. As reported by BBC, the company complained that the finding was “fundamentally unfair.”

As of this writing, it’s cricket chirps on Ukraine from ExxonMobile’s media office regarding the fundamental unfairness of Russia attacking Ukraine. If you run across something drop us a note in the comment thread.

Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.

Image: New graphene nanotube facility for EV batteries and more courtesy of OCSiAl.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

Tina Casey has 3246 posts and counting. See all posts by Tina Casey