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Thursday, 9 Feb 2017

Next-generation batteries a game changer for electric cars

Research team secures Chinese funding to develop high-energy-density lithium-ion power source

Under a new partnership between the University of Wollongong (UOW) and China’s Tianneng Battery Group Company, a research team led by Professor Zaiping Guo has secured funding to develop the next generation of high-energy-density lithium-ion batteries. Among other things, the batteries have the potential to significantly increase the range of electric cars.

Tianneng Battery Group, one of China’s leading battery manufacturers, will provide $250,000 for research to develop innovative silicon/carbon composite anode materials for use in lithium-ion batteries. Silicon/carbon composite anodes have potential for greater capacity compared to current graphite-based anode materials.

Professor Guo, a Future Fellow at UOW’s Faculty of Engineering and Information Sciences and the Institute for Superconducting and Electronic Materials within the Australian Institute of Innovative Materials (AIIM), said she expected the batteries to be ready for commercial use in electric cars within three to five years.

“If we use a current lithium-ion battery for an electric car the driving range is very limited because the energy density is still relatively low. By replacing the graphite-based anode with a silicon/carbon anode we can potentially increase the energy density by 50 per cent – which would significantly increase the driving range of an electric car,” Professor Guo said.

While there are significant technical challenges to overcome before silicon/carbon composite anodes can be used in commercial batteries, Professor Guo was confident her team, which has extensive experience researching and developing lithium-ion batteries, could solve these challenges.

“We have been working on this since last year. The first product is showing promising results and we are trying to improve it further. The amount of batteries we currently produce is still small scale, but I would say in three to five years we are going to be using this battery commercially in electric cars.”

Aside from electric cars, the batteries have potential use for any devices powered by lithium-ion batteries, including laptop computers and mobile phones.

UOW Dean of Research Professor Timothy Marchant led a delegation including Professor Guo to Changxin, China, last December to tour the Tianneng Battery Group facilities and sign the partnership agreement on behalf of UOW. In a further display of confidence in Professor Guo and her team, Tianneng Battery Group has also committed $300,000 to support an ARC Linkage Project proposal submitted in December 2016.

“Developing this relationship with a major battery manufacturer is a significant achievement for AIIM, and highlights the broad span of research being undertaken here – from fundamental science to highly-applicable materials development,” Professor Guo said.

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