Changing Anode Materials to Improve Lithium-Ion Batteries Using New Software

ELN

An experimental lithium ion polymer battery pack. Source: NASA.

The race to improve rechargeable lithium ion battery technology is heating up with new research recently published in Nature Energy.1 The new research describes a novel battery design which incorporates a silicon nanolayer into the graphite core of high energy density lithium-ion batteries. The silicon nanolayer itself can be manufactured at large scales relatively easily, underlining the speed with which the new design can move to market for industrial applications. Researchers and engineers will be able to make use of the new design quite quickly if their information technology architecture can keep pace with the speed of experimentation and innovation.

It’s no secret that the ideas of lithium-silicon batteries or lithium-silicon-carbon composite batteries are not new.2 3 The principal difficulty of using silicon nanostructures to improve battery life is that nanostructures are slow to generate and aggravate the traditional “roll-to-roll” battery manufacturing process. With some groups claiming increases of energy density or battery cycle life as large as 5 times normal lithium-ion batteries, it’s no surprise that scalable manufacturing is itself a topic of great interest.

The new research’s methodology for scalable manufacturing of the new battery design is  especially compelling, and comes amidst a smattering of similar research. Technologies incorporating nanotechnology into battery design and manufacturing have been predicted for quite some time, and are widely recognized as generating transformative changes in the context and way that we use batteries and thus electronics.4 Manufacturing high energy density lithium-ion-nanomaterial batteries will be the core of the ongoing portable energy revolution because it will increasingly free low-energy consumption devices from continuous connection to the electrical grid.

By providing high capacity batteries on a mass scale, energy production technologies like solar and wind power can be utilized for smaller and smaller applications because their excess energy production can be stashed for later. With improvements in energy consumption of electronic devices occurring on a wide variety of fronts, the near future looks increasingly charged up. The ongoing discovery of new applications for high-powered batteries will necessitate an agile battery design and troubleshooting system that seamlessly incorporates and shares the latest data.

Nanolayers, nanoparticles, or nanowire?

The new battery’s design makes use of a silicon nanolayer to improve energy density, but other nanostructures have been tested too. Other silicon nanomaterials such as nanoparticles and nanowire have also been proven scalable and effective, but few have made it to market.5 Adding nanomaterials into lithium-ion battery mixture preparations often warps the lithium cylinder because of minute changes in its structure.6 A warped lithium cylinder is a surefire way to make a battery that’s a dud, so it’s a big obstacle. By wrapping the silicon nanolayers around concentric layers of lithium columns, the new methodology somewhat avoids many of the traditional difficulties of incorporating nanomaterials into batteries, although these troubles are replaced by concerns about the nanomaterial itself becoming warped.  

Creating a nanolayer of sufficient integrity to prevent warping is an approachable problem, but it’s not the only one. Scaling novel battery designs isn’t easy even if the core design is robust. Incorporating a new material into the manufacturing process is logistically difficult, and guaranteeing a high quality of the final battery product requires an exhaustive amount of testing. Nanomaterials are especially challenging to create, and are subject to frequently changing synthesis procedures.7

Incorporating nanomaterials into lithium-ion battery production will require data on:

  • Nanomaterial mechanical and thermal integrity before introduction into the battery
  • Nanomaterial mechanical and thermal integrity during battery assembly
  • Nanomaterial integrity during battery use across all temperature ranges
  • Lithium integrity during and after nanolayer incorporation
  • Lithium integrity across all battery use temperature ranges after incorporation of the nanolayer
  • Deviations from steady power delivery under various conditions
  • Memory capacity of the battery with varying proportions of nanolayer added
  • Ideal structural incorporation patterns of the nanolayers: stacked like pancakes, in tall cylinders, or origami style?
  • Heat, mechanical, and voltage tolerances of the nanolayers in the different structural configurations
  • Effect of variations in manufacturing techniques on cost efficiency and battery properties

Designing the future’s powerhouse

These sets of data cover a number of different levels of organization and professional competencies, reflecting the idea that battery design is a multidisciplinary field. The physicists and chemists are responsible for nanomaterial design and prototype production, and pass their data to material engineers and electrical engineers for preliminary implementation. The engineers hone the nanomaterial in its intended use case, a prototype battery. After the engineers have formed an effective prototype battery, process engineers and manufacturing experts develop scale-up protocols while quality engineers assess failure modes of the prototypes. Everyone generates data from their part of the project, and everyone needs to cleanly get the data from the people before them as well as pass data to the people after them.

This entire process is informed by economic concerns throughout, requiring non-technical personnel to view and understand large volumes of data that relate to the efficiency of the battery in comparison to the proposed cost of each unit. There’s a ton of information to keep track of, and each new branch of the design process spawns even more. Unlike traditional battery design, it isn’t physically possible to develop silicon nanomaterial lithium-ion batteries with a few notebooks of calculations and a tome of manufacturing methods. Designing and simulating the nanomaterials and their interactions with their intended context requires powerful software which can track and provide structure to data as it’s being produced.

Traditional ELNs are ill-suited for the challenge of nanomaterial-based lithium-ion battery design. Typically, ELNs are strong at incorporating only a couple types of data, and are often less than impressive when it comes to linking multiple data sets together. A multidisciplinary approach is necessary to produce lithium-ion batteries which utilize silicon nanomaterials, and this means that there will be an abundance of data sets which must be linked, tagged and viewable under the same software’s hood—exactly the opposite of most ELNs which are for use within a narrow specialty. The ideal ELN for use within the new battery design paradigm will be a platform that can gracefully and collaboratively accommodate large volumes of design, experimentation, cost and trial data in a secure fashion. Thankfully, there is such an ELN on the market, one which moves beyond the on-premise solutions of traditional notebooks and enables collaboration that is easily scaled on a global enterprise level.   

BIOVIA Notebook is the electronic laboratory notebook which is necessary for developing the batteries of the future. Using Notebook, you can collaborate with your entire team while keeping your data organized and easily viewable. Contact us today to find out how we can help you use Notebook to start scaling up your battery prototyping.

  1. “Scalable synthesis of silicon-nanolayer-embedded graphite for high-energy lithium-ion batteries.” August 2016, http://www.nature.com/articles/nenergy2016113
  2. “Amorphous silicon as a possible anode material for Li-ion batteries.” January 2000, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378775399001949
  3. “Nanostructured silicon for high capacity lithium battery anodes.” July 2010, http://pubs.rsc.org/en/Content/ArticleLanding/2011/EE/C0EE00281J
  4. “Electrical energy storage for transportation–approaching the limits of, and going beyond, lithium-ion batteries.” April 2012, http://pubs.rsc.org/en/Content/ArticleLanding/2012/EE/c2ee21892e
  5. “Scalable preparation of porous silicon nanoparticles and their application for lithium-ion battery anodes.” February 2013, http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12274-013-0293-y
  6.  “Understanding the Lithiation of Silicon and Other Alloying Anodes for Lithium-Ion Batteries.” August 2013, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/adma.201301795/abstract
  7. “Nanosheet growth technique could revolutionize nanomaterial production.” January 2016, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/01/160130182107.htm