Battery-life is increasingly the sticking point of technological progress.
The latest electric vehicles can practically drive themselves, but only for so long. Outback energy woes look like they could be solved by solar and home energy storage, if the available batteries can be improved. And what about the Pokemon GO players, cutting hunting trips short due to the battery-sapping requirements of the app?
The solution could come from Sunshine Coast nanotechnology company Nano Nouvelle, which is developing a three-dimensional, nano-structured, porous electrode that it says will help overcome the limitations of today's batteries.
The company announced today that its 'Nanode' nanomaterials were being tested and trialled by two unnamed US specialist battery manufacturers. CEO Stephanie Moroz said she hoped the profile of the trials would lead to wider adoption.
"As Tesla proved with its Roadster EV sportscar, this sort of low-volume, high-margin starting point can provide a high visibility platform to demonstrate the benefits of innovative technology, which can accelerate its adoption by mass market manufacturers."
Nano Nouvelle's core technology, the Nanode uses tin as the electrode material, which has a much higher energy density than the current graphite technology. However, until now tin's commercial use had been limited due to its tendency to swell during charging and subsequently lose energy.
This issue is overcome by the Nanode's structure, made up of thin films of active material spread over a 3D and porous network of fibres, rather than stacked on a flat copper foil.
This enables the electrode structure to deal with the volume expansion of the tin while retaining dimensional stability at the electrode level. The result is batteries that can store the same amount of energy in a smaller volume, compared to commercial lithium ion batteries.
Moroz said she believed the nanotechnology could be easily incorporated into the existing battery manufacturing process.
"We're looking to make it plug and play for battery manufacturers," she said.
"Our goal is for [manufacturers] to take our electrode, match it with their other components and run it through their standard assembly processes. While they end up making higher performance batteries, the actual production deployment will require minimal effort on their part."
Moroz added that the focus of battery innovation had switched in the last couple of years.
"Whereas two years ago, it was mainly about portable electronics and wearables, the focus is now on batteries for EVs and energy storage," she said.
"People want to drive EVs and put energy storage batteries in their homes, but the delay between a scientific breakthrough and a commercial product can take as long as 10 years. The good news for us is that the battery industry has stopped chasing blue sky technologies to focus on improving lithium ion performance, which is where our products can deliver real value."
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