Leveraging Nanotechnology to Make Lithium-Ion Batteries 10X Better

Carbon nanotube

Just a few days ago I met the CEO of Nissan Canada and I had the opportunity to learn about the Nissan Leaf, their model of an affordable electric vehicle. I left that talk realizing that batteries are the backbone of this industry and a very underrated technology.

We need batteries that are:

  • affordable (a 70–90 kilowatt battery weighs 600 kg and costs up to $30k!)
  • efficient (a Nissan Leaf can only operate for 3 hours straight before it needs a recharge!)

These numbers sound absolutely crazy to me. Batteries are a clear barrier between encouraging more people to transition to EV’s to ultimately help reduce CO2 emissions. How are we going to solve climate change if our electric cars aren’t even working at max efficiency?!

Everyone will adopt EV’s is when the cars are 10X cheaper and 10X more efficient than regular cars while also maintaining the luxury experience in high end brands. Batteries need some major breakthrough innovations to reach this level of productivity.

Before I start, let’s remember that climate change is a REAL problem!

Climate change is not new. The earth in the past thousands of years has seen a cycle of ice ages and global climate change. Most of these changes were out of anyone’s control, meaning there was NOTHING we could possibly do to stop it. However, global warming today isn’t Mother Nature’s fault but caused by us, the lovely humans. This means all our past stupid mistakes CAN be fixed, we can stop climate change by making serious changes in the world.

One action that we can all collectively take is switch from fossil fuels to electric cars. And this needs to happen fast. Green house gas emissions have actually gone up in the past decade for transportation and account for most CO2 emissions in the USA.

We need to keep total climate change under 1.5 degrees celsius or else we are going to be in SERIOUS TROUBLE.

I’ll repeat that again, humans keep climate change < 1.5 degrees celsius or else humans = dead by 2028

We need to dynamically change how much pollution is created by cars in the next 10 years or climate change will go above 1.5 degrees celsius. It’ll be game over by then, no amount of actions will be able to reverse the effects of global warming.

This means we have 10 years to completely turn all cars in electric before it’s too late…

Here is a chart that shows the extreme difference between 1.5 and 2 degrees celsius.

Source: CarbonBrief

It is of utmost importance that electric cars replace all fossil fuel cars. We need proper batteries to help them become 10X better.

This is a scary problem, the world will be forever lost to us if we let climate change get out of hand. Not only will there by increase of natural disasters but the offset effects will massively destroy the livelihood of millions of people.

  1. Sea levels rising will wipe out coastal areas reducing land size, this will globally affect the housing crisis.
  2. Loss of crops will lead to an increase in widespread hunger across many nations.
  3. Amount of safe drinking water will be at risk and could lead to huge outbreaks of diseases in areas with no access to clean water.

These are just some catastrophic events which will put the whole human species at risk.

I have to help stop this is some way, everyone has a part to play in reversing climate change. That’s why I am looking into how we can leverage nanotechnology to help increase battery life and usage to make electric cars more accessible to everyone.

My proposition: using carbon nanotubes to increase the efficiency in lithium-ion batteries.

Lithium-ion batteries are the most popular technology currently used as rechargeable batteries. They are found in our cellphones, computers and huge ones in electric cars.

Lithium-ion batteries explained in 4 simple steps:

  1. Electric current is traveled through a battery by conductive outside layers, most often aluminum and copper.
  2. A positive and negative electrode are placed on the insider to allow ions to flow and induce chemical reactions, positive cathode is made of lithium while the negative anode is made of graphite.
  3. In between the electrodes is a layer of electrolytes that help transfer lithium ions their charge across the electrodes and in between the electrolyte is a permeable insulator that prevents any short circuits from happening.
  4. As a battery charges, the lithium ions travel from the cathode to the anode and get stored in the graphite material, when the battery discharges energy is released and transformed into electrical energy while the lithium ions travel back to the cathode.

The problem? Lithium-ion batteries have a limited life-span and efficiency of the battery degrades overtime.

  • Their capacity is structurally limited because only 1 lithium ion is stored for every 6 carbon atoms.
  • After battery usage, this capacity is lost over time as the cycle of charging and discharging the battery leaves lithium to become permanently lodged in the anode.
  • Lithium ions overtime create a film over the graphite anode which prevents ion storage and overall lower lithium ion concentration as more ions are lost during each cycle.
  • This chemical reaction is irreversible and puts a strict limit on the longevity of a battery, this SUCKS because in EV’s batteries need to be changed frequently.
  • That is completely inefficient because replacing a battery alone will cost as much as a new car.

Solution? Carbon nanotubes could be better suited as anode material!

Carbon nanotubes are another allotrope of carbon, they are carbon atoms bonded together into a tube like structure. They resemble graphene sheets that are rolled together. So a sheet of covalently bonded carbon atoms, rolled together into tubes that are 1 atom thick.

The specific angle at which these atoms are rolled into shape is called the chiral angle. The shape and size of a carbon nanotubes dictates its special properties. For example, it’s the strongest material to have largest tensile strength while also having high elasticity (easily deformed). This makes carbon nanotubes a really unique material and have many uses of applications.

Multi-Walled Carbon Nanotube

Carbon nanotubes could help replace graphite as the anode material. It was observed that lithium ions have much more…

  • storage capacity between the carbon nanotubes.
  • less prone to degrade over time because they penetrate the carbon nanotubes way more easily + quickly.
  • charging cycles will become faster and relatively no loss of lithium ions making the batteries more long-lasting.

Multi-walled carbon nanotubes (see picture above) are just carbon nanotubes stacked on top of each other. This structure of nanotubes mimics the insertion of lithium ions in graphite but the hollow core allow for more overall storage capacity. This also increases the total surface area of carbon bonding sites while having the same volume of material. The layered carbon nanotubes can be structured with different chiral angles, allowing for a engineered combination of properties. This way the nanotubes are manufactured with highest degree of conductivity to have more stable charging/discharging cycles. The thickness of the outer layer carbon nanotube can help prevent degradation of anode electrode while maintaining a hollow frame to easily allow the transportation of lithium ions across electrolyte.

Here is my simulation of an example multi-walled carbon nanotube with these specific properties.

3-walled CNT

Limitations on carbon nanotubes:

  • still ongoing research field so not complete mastery over this nanomaterial
  • Producing CNT’s with identical properties and structure
  • Mass producing CNT’s is extremely difficult and not 100% control over the outcome result

There is so much research that still needs to be done, nanotech is still an emerging field with room for many stages of new breakthroughs. The motivation is to leverage this new technology to help make batteries 100X better and contribute massively to solving climate change.

Key Takeaways:

  • Climate change is a pressing issue that needs to be taken seriously, a major step towards the solution is improving EV’s to be better than fossil fuel cars.
  • Long-lasting and efficient batteries are needed to make EV’s 100X better and nanotechnology will help provide new ideas of innovation.
  • Carbon nanotubes are one possible way to make traditional lithium ion batteries much more efficient and cost friendly if need to replace lithium batteries is eradicated completely.

Thank you for reading my article! I have much more research to do in the nanotech field and many more ideas to learn.

If you liked this article and wish to learn about more nanotech applications then visit my personal website at http://tanishabassan.ca/ to sign up for my newsletter where I share all new content, research, talks, events + more!

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