Washington State has received funds to equip a laboratory with equipment capable of testing its battery materials in commercial sizes. Professor Grant Norton of the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering has developed a battery with a nanostructured tin anode that replaces typical carbon anodes and could increase the capacity of a lithium battery by three fold.
Tin anode batteries hold great promise, but are plagued by a problem similar to silicon based batteries. As the lithium ions enter the tin anode, the tin can swell up to a third its size – which is both good and bad. Its good because the tin can swell to hold more lithium ions than traditional carbon based anodes, but it is also bad because the swelling can cause the tin to short circuit.
Professor Norton and his colleagues devised a way to use electroplating to grow tin nanoneedles which are able to absorb the lithium ions without short circuiting. The extra capacity in the anode triples the capacity of the battery and allows it to recharge faster than a conventional lithium ion batteries. As a bonus, both tin and the electroplating process are relatively inexpensive, so the new lithium battery may even cost less despite its improved operating profile.
Professor Norton presented the new anode at the Next Generation Batteries 2013 conference in Boston last month. The new lab should allow the group to capitalize on the exposure that the breakthrough has received.
The new lab will also be used to develop a new solid electrolyte that Professor Katie Zhong is working on. While usually in liquid form, the group is working on a solid electrolyte which has a safer and more environmentally friendly profile.
The groups are also working together to combine their discoveries into a single battery.