It doesn’t seem so long ago that battery manufacturers were striving for the $100 per KWh battery, yet a recent breakthrough could see $54 per KWh energy storage coming to market soon. Announced by US west coast firm BioSolar, who include Nobel Prize winner Alan Heeger on their science advisory board, the so call “Super Battery” could cause massive disruption in the electric car, smart building and consumer electronics sectors.
“Rarely does one technology exhibit such potential across so many energy sectors spanning solar, electric vehicles, and traditional charging applications for personal technology use”, said BioSolar CEO David Lee.
BioSolar and the University of California, Santa Barbara, reinforced a previous international patent application by jointly filing applications in the US, Canada and Japan for something called a "multicomponent-approach to enhance stability and capacitance in polymer-hybrid supercapacitors", or “Super Battery” for short.
All the fuss around BioSolar’s energy storage approach comes down to the fact that it solves two key problems of conventional lithium-ion battery technology. Firstly, the cost of materials, which has long been a stumbling block in the energy storage debate, and the second, is the limited capacity of the cathode compared to the anode.
A battery contains two major parts, a cathode and an anode, that function together as the positive and negative sides. Today’s state-of-the-art lithium-ion battery is limited by the storage capacity of its cathode, while the anode can store much more.
BioSolar has solved the cost and capacity problem by developing an inexpensive polymer for the cathode. "Our novel high capacity cathode is engineered from a polymer, similar to that of low-cost plastics used in the household. Through a smart chemical design, we are able to make the polymer hold an enormous amount of electrons. The estimated raw materials cost of our cathode is similar to that of inexpensive plastics, with a very high possible energy density of 1,000 Wh/kg", the team announced.
BioSolar have developed a their new cathode based on inexpensive conductive polymers and organic materials that can fully utilise the storage capacity of conventional anodes. The company integrated their high capacity, high power and low-cost cathode with conventional anodes, meaning battery manufacturers could potentially create a super lithium-ion battery that can double the range of a Tesla electric car, power an iPhone for 2 days straight, or more efficiently store solar energy for night time and emergency use.
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BioSolar’s high capacity cathode is engineered from a polymer that can hold 2 electrons for each molecular unit, instead of conventional cathodes that use lithium-ion intercalation chemistry and are inherently slow. BioSolar’s technology exploits the fast redox-reaction properties of polymers to enable rapid charge and discharge, resulting in huge benefits for battery users.
BioSolar's research also indicates that the new polymer enables batteries to charge and discharge rapidly while far outlasting the lifecycle of conventional lithium-ion energy storage. According to the company, conventional batteries drop down to 80% of their storage capacity after 1,000 charge/discharge cycles. However, when the new polymer is used in a supercapacitor, we see markedly improved results. BioSolar's lab work has demonstrated a lifespan of as many as 50,000 cycles without degradation.
The company admits it has some work to do before it is ready to publish more definitive conclusions about its energy storage solution for EV batteries, utility scale storage, and other applications that require slower, steadier discharge. They are, however, confident that they are heading down the right track for a significant disruption across the energy storage sector.
The bottom line is that BioSolar estimates that if you combine its “Super Cathode” in a full battery with a typical graphite anode, you’ll arrive at $54 per kWh. That’s a Tesla Model S Battery with twice the capacity and a four-fold reduction in cost.
If batteries were the catalyst for the burgeoning clean energy sector, the “super batteries” should signal a new era in the way we use and reuse energy, right?