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The Next Generation of Battery Technology: An Interview with Dr Fernando Gómez-Baquero

Battery Energy Storage Systems Technologies (B.E.S.S. Technologies) is a spin-out company from the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CNSE) at the University of Albany, focused on commercializing novel energy storage technologies. In this Insights from Industry interview, co-founder and CEO Dr Fernando Gomez-Baquero talks to Will Soutter about their technology and processes, and about their partnership with the CNSE.

WS: Could you give us an overview of B.E.S.S. Technologies and the field you are working in?

FGB: B.E.S.S. Technologies is a component design and engineering venture. Our mission is to improve the battery systems of assemblers and manufacturers of batteries, providing them with high-performing component designs. Currently we are developing an anode solution for assemblers and manufacturers of lithium ion batteries.

WS: What benefits does your technology offer over existing energy storage systems?

FGB: Our product is a novel anode for lithium ion batteries that offers the following benefits:

1. Higher energy density: our anode has a unique silicon/silicide chemical composition and surface engineering that provides more than 3 times the energy capacity of graphite (i.e. above 1200mAh/g). We also have a product development plan that aims to double that capacity.

2. Higher power delivery: our anode technology has a hyperbranched nanostructure that can increase surface area by 2 orders of magnitude when compared to traditional graphites or other nano-silicon anodes. Increased surface area allows the material to deliver higher power densities, in this case without losing the energy storage capacity.

3. Faster charging rates: current anodes are usually operated at low charging rates to prevent damages to the material. Our nanostructure and our unique chemical composition work together to withstand fast charging rates. We have successfully tested our anode at charging rates 5-10 times faster (5C-10C) than what is usually recommended for anodes (1C).

4. Simple manufacturing with no extra materials: our anode is manufactured using two well-known, highly scalable manufacturing processes known as Physical Vapor Deposition (PVD) and Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD). Our anode does not require the use of binder materials or carbon mixes, can be fabricated in any format size, and uses materials that are easily recyclable.

Figure 1. a single hyperbranched silicon/silicide nanostructure fabricated using only PVD and CVD

WS: How does nanotechnology help you achieve these benefits?

FBG: Silicon-based anodes were proposed many years ago as a possible solution to improve lithium ion batteries. But bulk silicon anodes have such a short lifetime (only work for a few charge/recharge cycles) that it made them impractical for rechargeable batteries.

Nanotechnology first “rescued” silicon when researchers discovered that silicon nanostructures (below 150nm according to a recent study) do not suffer from cracking and fracturing upon lithiation. But creating nanostructures (e.g. nanoparticles, nanowires, nanopillars) is not enough because there are electrochemical reactions that also reduce the useful life of silicon anodes.

So, we have used nanoengineering to make a leap forward and create an anode material that is surface-nanoengineered to mitigate the problems that arise from unwanted electrochemical reactions, while at the same time capturing the benefits of a small size.

And this is just the beginning. Nanotechnology is allowing us to customize the performance characteristics of the anode and in the near future it will help us add value in the form of better performance and will help us incorporate new functionalities to battery systems.

WS: Many novel technologies based on nanomaterials look good on the lab scale, but run into difficulties when scaling up – have you met any issues with large scale production?

FBG: Our approach is to keep manufacturing simple, take advantage of well-known processes, and overall offer a solution that will be cost-effective. To do so we only use two manufacturing processes (CVD and PVD) that have been around for several decades and are extensively used in large-scale manufacturing in the semiconductor and photovoltaic industries.

We are currently working with equipment manufacturers and have found that our lab process is easily translatable to large-scale production. We also want to offer our customers a manufacturing plan that will reduce other costs.

Carbon-based anode manufacturing is sometimes a lengthy process done in several steps that can at least include: material preparation, mixing, coating, drying and calendaring. Our process is a simple 2 step PVD-CVD that can have an anode ready for assembly in a very short period of time.

Figure 2. to make a working anode, millions of hyperbranched nanostructures are deposited on top of a current collector.

WS: You have recently entered into a licensing agreement with the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering at the University of Albany. How will the facilities and knowledge available to you help with development of the technology?

FBG: There are several advantages to partnering with a $14 Billion R&D nanotechnology endeavour that is the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CNSE). The most obvious one is access to specialized tooling, equipment, and brain-power that allows us to do accelerate our R&D efforts and reduce our time to market.

Additionally, we are part of the iClean incubator (housed at the CNSE) that has provided us with technical incubation assistance, introduction to private investment firms, legal and insurance contacts, mentoring, and other start-up business support.

Every day we take advantage of this growing cluster of innovators and of the resources that would otherwise be too expensive for a start-up company to acquire.

WS: How do you see the world of energy storage changing over the next few years, as nanotechnology-enhanced solutions like yours become more prevalent?

FBG: Consumers today recognize the immense importance of energy storage. They often wonder (as I do) why their mobile phone cannot stay charged for a whole day. They also recognize how important advances in energy storage are if we want to build a future where renewable energies and electric transportation are predominant in our economy.

Until now, a large part of the battery technologies that consumers use are not great, just good enough. In the next few years several innovations will compete to capture niche markets and will create a competitive landscape where performance will be key.

Many nanotechnology-enhanced solutions will enter the market, but only the ones that can demonstrate continuous performance improvements will dominate. This performance focus will make the energy storage market more similar to the semiconductor industry, and less similar to the chemicals/materials-driven industry that it is now.

WS: How do B.E.S.S. Technologies’ plans for the future fit into that vision?

FBG: I often ask people: if you demand more powerful, faster, and lighter laptops and mobile phones, why not demand the same from batteries? Our mission is to be a preferred partner of battery manufacturers, and help them answer to these customer demands by improving the performance of their battery systems.

Currently we do so by applying nanoengineering to lithium-ion battery components, and in the future we will use our knowledge and expertise to improve other energy storage systems such as lithium-air or flow batteries.

Even though we have extensive knowledge about materials, we are not a materials company. We use materials and nanotechnology to add value to energy storage components. That is what the future of energy storage demands.

WS: Where can we find more information about B.E.S.S. Technologies?

FBG: You can visit our website www.bess-tech.com and send us an email at info@bess-tech.com. We are always happy to engage in interesting discussions and provide more information about our technology.



Date Added: Oct 11, 2012 | Updated: Jun 11, 2013
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