New Flexible Battery Has Multiple Advantages Over Lithium-ion

Posted by on June 12, 2014 in Entrepreneurship, Green, Tech

Thin-Film-Flexible-Battery-Rice-Lab-Sample-558x401Researchers at Rice University have recently announced a new flexible battery based on nanoporous nickel fluoride. There are several characteristics of this battery that make it interesting, and potentially quite important.

First, the fact that it is flexible means that the range of applications for electrified stuff has just been significantly expanded. That flexibility, combined with its deep storage capacity, was a major achievement for chemist James Tour and his team. According to Tour, that combination was “not easy to do, because materials with such high capacity are usually brittle.” If the battery can conform to the shape of the device, that could allow devices to become smaller and therefore more lightweight. It could also be used in applications that move or flex, such as wearable electronics. Gizmag suggests that this could quickly find a home in smartwatches. How about a bike computer that wraps around the handlebar or devices that can be rolled up when not in use?

The second important characteristic of this battery is its performance. One big issue in the quest to find a perfect battery is the fact that, in most cases, batteries with deep storage properties cannot provide a burst of power when needed without significantly depleting their charge. That is why super-capacitors, or ultra-capacitors, as they’re sometimes called, are beginning to find their way into a number of dynamic applications such as electric vehicles. This battery, which is only about a hundredth of an inch thick, “combines the best qualities of a high-energy battery and a high-powered super-capacitor.”

According to the press release, “To create the battery/supercapacitor, the team deposited a nickel layer on a backing. They etched it to create 5-nanometer pores within the 900-nanometer-thick nickel fluoride layer, giving it high surface area for storage. Once they removed the backing, they sandwiched the electrodes around an electrolyte of potassium hydroxide in polyvinyl alcohol. Testing found no degradation of the pore structure even after 10,000 charge/recharge cycles. The researchers also found no significant degradation to the electrode-electrolyte interface. “

Finally, the fact that this battery contains no lithium, is also important. Lithium-ion batteries have been the battery of choice for everything from cell phones to electric cars. Their performance has consistently beaten any other commercially available battery in these types of applications. But this performance has not come without a price. First of all, lithium has some safety concerns. According to Underwriters Laboratory, these concerns include both “the thermal stability of active materials within the battery at high temperatures and the occurrence of internal short circuits that may lead to thermal runaway.” In fact, an overheating lithium battery has been ruled as the leading cause of a fire that destroyed a Boeing 747 cargo jet in 2010 which led to a crash that killed the two pilots.

The other problem with lithium is the fact that it is not particularly abundant. Known reserves on land amount to 14 million tons, which might sound like a lot, but could be depleted quickly when electric cars become numerous. There is far more lithium present in sea water, but no commercially viable method for extracting it has yet been developed.

According to Tour, they are already talking with companies interested in commercializing this innovation.

Image credit: Jeff Fitlow, Rice University

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