Why can’t we use iPhones for several days without charging, or drive electric vehicles from Los Angeles to San Francisco without being stranded due to a low battery? Wouldn’t it be nice to fully recharge your electric car for a return trip to Los Angeles while eating lunch in San Francisco? When will we be able to purchase electric vehicles that cost about the same as conventional vehicles? The answers come down to higher battery capacity, faster charging ability, and lower cost.
A battery’s anode and cathode create the system’s positive and negative sides. Energy Storage technology company BioSolar is pursuing anode material advancements to support next-generation super batteries. By integrating BioSolar’s high-capacity cathode or anode, battery manufacturers will be able to create a super lithium-ion battery that could double the range of a Tesla, power an iPhone for two days, or store daytime solar energy for nighttime use.
Today’s Energy Solutions (TES) recently sat down with BioSolar’s CEO David Lee, to discuss the technology and the company’s plans moving toward commercialization.
Today’s Energy Solutions (TES): Why is the super battery silicon based?
David Lee: Graphite is currently the most widely used anode material, but silicon (Si) has attracted great attention because of its natural abundance, non-toxicity, and very high theoretical specific capacity, which is about 10x more than that of conventional graphite anodes.
However, there are challenges to the commercial use of silicon in battery anodes. Silicon anodes suffer from large-capacity fading and tremendous volume changes during lithium-ion (Li-ion) charge-discharge cycling. The strains, due to the huge volume changes, actually pulverize the silicon material and eventually lead to electrode shattering and delamination, which adversely affect the battery performance.
While there have been many attempts throughout the years to make commercial use of silicon for battery anodes, all the known approaches have fundamental obstacles that still prevent them from taking advantage of silicon’s theoretical capacity. BioSolar intends to overcome these technology barriers by focusing on designing Si-alloy materials and developing unique and highly effective material processing solutions to take maximum advantage of silicon’s full potential. BioSolar believes that in doing so, it can significantly impact the cost of the battery, thereby enhancing overall energy storage efficiency.
TES: How was this technology developed?
DL: BioSolar initially focused its development effort on high-capacity cathode materials since most of today’s Li-ion batteries are cathode limited. To create the company’s next-generation super battery technology, however, we also need to develop high-capacity anode materials, since overall battery capacity is determined by a combination of both the cathode and anode.
While there are many different battery technologies currently available and in use, the energy storage industry is focused mainly on advancing Li-ion battery technology because of its overwhelming advantages over other types of batteries commercially available. For instance, compared to other existing nickel-metal hydride batteries, Li-ion batteries have a substantially higher energy storage density that requires a smaller footprint. This minimizes weight and size of the devices and its memoryless nature makes it more suitable for use in hybrid vehicles that require constant charges and discharges of its batteries in stop-and-go traffic. It’s also important to note that with a low self-discharge property, Li-ion batteries’ stored electrical energy lasts longer.
As the overall capacity is determined by a combination of both the cathode and anode, BioSolar is developing both a high-capacity cathode and high-capacity anode.
TES: What advice would you give to companies adapting energy storage Solutions?
DL: Energy generating companies should consider the overall cost versus the benefit of installation and maintenance for the various types of batteries in their energy structure. The decision should depend on what benefits their business the most. If frequency regulation is a high priority, Li-ion battery storage is a good choice due to the memoryless nature of lithium-ion batteries.
If large real estate is easily accessible and affordable, a flow battery should certainly be considered to minimize cost. In some cases, a combination of various storage technologies may provide the best benefit at a reasonable cost. Some examples where a combination makes sense:
- Storing electrical energy during non-peak hours and using the batteries during peak hours.
- Protecting energy infrastructure by allowing batteries to provide high quality and steady flow of electrical energy.
TES: What is BioSolar’s plan for super battery commercialization?
DL: We intend to commercialize our silicon-based anode material as a technology that significantly increases the energy density and cycle life of current Li-ion batteries. Our goal is to develop a working high-capacity anode for the use of battery manufacturers to create the ultimate high-capacity, high-power, and fast charging and discharging Li-ion battery. End users for this technology will be device manufacturers of electrical vehicles, power tools, consumer electronics, and large-scale energy storage. We’re also open to licensing our technology or forming manufacturing partnerships.
Existing Li-ion batteries cannot compete with ultra-low cost flow batteries in terms of cost. Flow batteries commonly used for large-scale energy storage, however, have a large footprint due to their low energy density. BioSolar’s anode technology is expected to significantly increase the capacity, lower the cost, and increase the life cycle of Li-ion batteries.
Last year, the U.S. energy storage market grew 243% according to the U.S. Energy Storage Monitor Review. By 2020, it’s forecasted to reach 1.7GW with a value of $2.5 billion.There’s an opportunity for energy generation companies to take advantage of this market growth.
About the author: Arielle Campanalie is the associate editor for TES and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 216.393.0240.