Thursday, 23 October 2014
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New technology extends the life of lithium-ion batteries

A company creating longer-lasting rechargeable batteries is hoping its silicon-anode technology will contribute to a new UK manufacturing sector.

Nexeon, a spin-out of Imperial College London, has developed production methods for its lithium-ion batteries at a new pilot plant in Oxfordshire, with the aim of keeping costs equal to those of conventional carbon anodes.

The technology allows batteries to hold ten times the charge of other models because silicon anodes can hold more lithium ions than carbon ones and could be used in electric vehicles or consumer electronics.

But previous attempts to use silicon have suffered because the connections between atoms break down through repeated charging, leaving isolated regions of material.

Nexeon’s design involves creating a structure of tiny interwoven strands of silicon, one fifth of a micron in diameter, which prevents the material degrading in the same way.

‘If one connection is broken there are a million others so you don’t get the cracking up,’ said Imperial’s Prof Mino Green, inventor of the technology and Nexeon’s chief scientific officer.

To create the strands, tiny hemispheres of silver are deposited on particles of silicon and hydrofluoric acid is used to etch down through the remaining exposed silicon, leaving a structure resembling a hedgehog.

The strands are then broken off and used to create the anode while 99.8 per cent of the silver is recovered and recycled using nitric acid.

The new pilot plant at Culham near Oxford, which opened earlier this year, can produce one million 18650-type battery cells annually.

Nexeon had to design low-costs production facilities that could cope with pumping highly corrosive hydrofluoric acid around.

Engineering and operations director Ian McDonald said: ‘We thought about costs from the beginning – we didn’t want to try reducing costs at a later stage.’

Expanding Nexeon’s facilities could help the growth of battery production in the UK, said CEO Scott Brown.

‘We’re in dialogue with several major battery manufacturers and EV manufacturers and some are already evaluating the material,’ he said.

‘It means we won’t be shipping battery parts from Asia for EVs. It might be a natural progression for manufacturing in the UK within three or four years’ time.’


Readers' comments (5)

  • Excellent, this is just the sort of thing we need for the future of the UK. Brilliant people inovating, not only the idea but ensuring that it goes into production in the UK in a cost effective way. Congratulations and thanks to all concerned.

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  • Electric vehicles of all shapes and sizes are the future of transportation including small unmanned air vehicles. This appears to be a world leading technology and it's in manufacturing and innovative. It's just such a shame that there is such limited support for such industries from government and other UK institutions including the banks.

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  • Don't get too exited. It's sure to be sold out to Some Foriegn Company with production shifting off shore, unless our politicians wake up and bring in rules protecting our national assets like all our major competitors do!

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  • I agree with anomymous - history is against this being exploited in the UK. Just think of the inventions of one UK government facility alone at Malvern which are no longer manufactured in the UK, Infra Red sensors, Liquid Crystal Displays, Wave guides, Surface Acoustic Wave devices etc, etc. Until the Government wakes up this will continue.

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  • I totally agree with sceptical sentiments about manufacture in the UK. Look at the backgrounds of those who will make the decisions re financing new technology in the UK. Very few , if any will have been involved in the creative engineering arts and sciences; most will have got where they are from financial and legal backgrounds. To them the bottom line is all that matters.

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