Carbon nanotubes set to significantly improve battery life

Researchers at North Carolina State University in the US have created a flexible nano-scaffold for rechargeable lithium ion batteries. It's hoped the development could help mobile phone and electric car batteries last longer.

The research shows the potential of manufactured sheets of aligned carbon nanotubes coated with silicon; a material with a much higher energy storage capacity than the graphite composites typically used in lithium ion batteries.

"Putting silicon into batteries can produce a huge increase in capacity - 10 times greater," said Dr. Philip Bradford, assistant professor of textile engineering, chemistry and science at North Carolina State University. "But, adding silicon can also create 10 times the problems."

One significant challenge in using silicon is that it swells as lithium ion batteries discharge. As the batteries cycle, silicon can break off from the electrode and float around, known as pulverisation, instead of staying in place making the batteries less stable.

When the silicon-coated carbon nanotubes were aligned in one direction, akin to building a layer of drinking straws laid end to end, the structure allowed for controlled expansion so that the silicon is less prone to pulverisation.

"There's a huge demand for batteries for cell phones and electric vehicles, which need higher energy capacity for longer driving distances between charges," said Xiangwu Zhang, associate professor of textile engineering, chemistry and science at the University. "We believe this carbon nanotube scaffolding potentially has the ability to change the industry, although technical aspects still have to be worked out. The manufacturing process we're using is scalable and could work well in commercial production."

Justin Cunningham

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