By Will Soutter
Nanotechnology for Batteries
Nanomaterials for Batteries
Future Research for
Nanotechnology in Batteries
Batteries are devices which store electrical energy by converting it
to chemical energy, to be released slowly at a later time. In
rechargeable batteries, this chemical process is reversible, allowing
the battery to be reused many times.
Batteries are important to many areas of technology, including
transport, portable electronics, medical devices, power tools, and
storage of electricity produced by intermittent renewable sources
(wind, solar, tidal, etc).
Batteries are made from layers of different materials which enable
the electrochemical storage of electricity - as a minimum, an anode
(positive electrode), cathode (negative electrode), and electrolyte.
Figure 1. Simple schematic of a battery. Image
Battery technologies are continually improving, with every
increasing energy densities and decreasing charge times. It is highly
likely that the next major wave of innovations in batteries will take
advantage of our increasing understanding of nanotechnology.
With our increasing use of high-performance batteries in hybrid and
electric cars, and ever more demanding electronic gadgets, the physical
limits of the materials used in batteries are being tested.
Enhancements through nanotechnology could provide a new lease of life
for these materials, and turn up some new materials which have not yet
Nanotechnology for Batteries
The main drivers for research in battery technology are to find
materials suitable for use as electrodes which have as high a surface
area as possible. This allows charge to flow more freely, resulting in
higher capacity and shorter charge/discharge cycles.
Safety of batteries is also an important concern. Liquid
which are prevalent in Li-ion batteries, can rupture the cell and event
combust when overheated. Currently, safety measures required to prevent
this from happening take up space inside the battery, increasing its
size, and add cost and complexity to the manufacturing process.
These issues are being solved by nanotechnology research.
Nanostructured materials can offer a huge step increase in surface area
for electrolyte materials, and nanoparticles could enhance the
conductivity of ceramics or gels sufficiently to allow them to replace
liquid electrolytes, reducing or eliminating the chance of a short
Several types of nanomaterials have been explored which allow for
higher storage densities of lithium than standard metal or graphite
- Carbon-coated silicon nanowires
- Carbon nanotubes
- Layered, nanostructured vanadium oxide and manganese oxide
- LiMn2O4 or LiCo2O4
Al2O3, SiO2, or ZrO2
nanoparticles added to solid polymer gel could significantly enhance
the conductivity and storage capacity of the electrolyte. Solid
ceramics have also been explored, as their high temperature resistance
would suit demanding, high-stress applications like large vehicles or
renewable power stations.
Figure 2. Nanoparticle matrices in battery
electrodes can drastically increase their ability to store lithium
ions, increasing the storage density of the battery. Image credit: Argonne National Laboratory
for Nanotechnology in Batteries
Much of the research into nano-enhanced batteries in the coming few
years will focus on reducing the cost of these nanomaterials, to make
them viable for large scale commercial applications.
The use of nanotechnology to enhance performance by increasing
energy storage density has also allowed much smaller batteries to be
made for applications which are less demanding, but benefit from small,
light and flexible rechargeable batteries. Some thin-film batteries are
already available, but these have limited performance and are still
- "Report on Energy: Batteries and SuperCapacitors" - EU ObservatoryNano
- "Layered vanadium and molybdenum oxides: batteries and
electrochromics" - N. A. Chernova et al, J. Mat. Chem, 2009, DOI: 10.1039/b819629j
- "Carbon-coated silicon nanowire array films for
high-performance lithium-ion battery anodes" - Huang et al, 2009,