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Stabilised carbon could bring much higher energy densities for Li-ion batteries

In order to allow an electric vehicle to travel for hundreds of miles at a time, lithium-ion batteries will have to have to store more energy, but keep the same size. However, according to a researcher, this is a dilemma as, in order to hold enough energy to enable a car to drive for 500 miles before recharging, current lithium-ion batteries become too big or too expensive.

Associate Professor of Chemistry at Boston College in the US, Dunwei Wang, has been developing materials that might one day enable the manufacture of new batteries that meet size and cost constraints.

Wang and a colleague from the University of Massachusetts Amherst has developed a way to stabilise carbon and believes this could pave the way to new battery performance standards.

Researchers pursuing a 'lithium-air' battery have focused on a chemical reaction of lithium and oxygen, but the materials involved have limited lives. Wang says this is due to the instability of carbon, an essential structural part of the battery's electrode.

"Carbon is used in every battery because it has low cost, light weight and conductivity," said Wang. "You can't just scrap it."

Wang's solution, in association with Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering Wei Fan from Amherst, is called three dimensionally ordered mesoporous (3DOm) carbon.

Initial tests show a marked improvement in performance. "We demonstrated that a particular form of carbon can be used to support a new type of chemistry that allows for energy storage with the promise of five to 10 times more energy density than state of the art lithium-ion batteries," said Wang. "We see this as significantly improving the cyclability of the battery, which is a key issue."

Graham Pitcher

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