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Pressure-cooked nanoparticles enhance e-vehicle batteries

Posted: 20 Nov 2013  Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:lithium-ion batteries  electric cars  nanoparticles  pressure cooker 

Researchers at the University of California, Riverside's Bourns College of Engineering have discovered a new process for improving lithium-ion batteries found in today's electric cars.

Today's electric car batteries take a long time to charge, and are big and bulky. Aiming to solve most of these problems, the engineers have redesigned the component materials of the battery – the cathode—in an environmentally friendly way.

Lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4), one type of cathode, has been used in electric vehicles because of its low cost, low toxicity and thermal and chemical stability. However, its commercial potential is limited because it has poor electronic conductivity and lithium ions are not very mobile within it.

According to the UC team, by creating nanoparticles with a controlled shape, a smaller, more powerful, and energy efficient batteries can be built. By modifying the size and shape of battery components, they aim to reduce charge times as well.

Pressure-cooked nanoparticles enhance electric car batteries

Figure 1: Lithium iron phosphate battery created in Kisailus lab.

"This is a critical, fundamental step in improving the efficiency of these batteries," said David Kisailus, an associate professor of chemical and environmental engineering and lead researcher on the project.

UC researchers used a solvothermal synthetic method, essentially placing reactants into a container and heating them up under pressure, like a pressure cooker. They used a mixture of solvents to control the size, shape and crystallinity of the particles and then carefully monitored how the lithium iron phosphate was formed. By doing this, they were able to determine the relationship between the nanostructures they formed and their performance in batteries.

By controlling the size of nanocrystals, which were typically 5,000 times smaller than the thickness of a human hair, within shape-controlled particles of LiFePO4, the team has shown that batteries with more power on demand may be generated.

These size and shape modulated particles offer a higher fraction of insertion points and reduced pathlengths for Li-ion transport, thus improving battery rates.

Kisailus and his team are currently refining this process to not only further improve performance and reduce cost, but also implement scalability.





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