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Contour Energy Systems Licenses MIT Carbon Nanotube Technology for Li-ion Battery Electrodes

Contour Energy Systems, Inc. has acquired a carbon nanotube technology that can significantly improve the power capability of lithium-ion batteries, through an exclusive technology licensing agreement with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). (Earlier post.) Early findings from researchers at MIT confirm that using carbon nanotubes for battery electrodes can produce a ten-fold increase in the amount of power that can be delivered from a given weight of material when compared to a conventional lithium-ion battery, and this performance can be sustained across thousands of charge-discharge cycles.

Contour is a spinoff of the collaboration between CalTech and CNRS, the French National Center for Scientific Research and is focused on developing new fluorine-based battery chemistries, nanomaterials science and manufacturing processes for lithium-ion energy storage systems. (Earlier post.)

The carbon nanotube technology that we’re adding to our IP portfolio has broad market implications. We will apply this game-changing material to our next-generation line of batteries designed to address the longevity and power density requirements for a wide range of applications in portable devices spanning automotive, industrial, medical, military and consumer electronics markets.

—Dr. Simon Jones, director of research and development at Contour Energy Systems

In the new battery electrode being developed by Contour Energy Systems based on the MIT technology, carbon nanotubes self assemble through a controlled deposition process driven by electrostatic interactions into a tightly bound structure that is porous at the nanometer scale.

These carbon nanotubes contain numerous functional groups on their surfaces that can store a large number of lithium ions per unit mass. For the first time, carbon nanotubes can serve as the cathode in lithium-ion batteries, instead of the traditional role that carbon materials have played as the anode in such systems. This lithium storage reaction on the surface of carbon nanotubes is much faster than conventional lithium intercalation reactions, so can deliver high power.

—MIT Professor Yang Shao-Horn

The electrostatic self-assembly process is important. Ordinarily, carbon nanotubes deposited on a surface tend to clump together in bundles leaving fewer exposed surfaces to undergo reactions. We’ve discovered that by integrating charged molecules on the nanotubes, they can assemble in a way that produces a highly porous electrode resulting in a greater number of nanotubes accessible for Li-ion storage and release.

In terms of what this means for lithium-ion battery performance, the new material can produce very high power outputs in short bursts and steady, lower power for long periods. The energy output for a given weight of this new electrode material is over five times greater than for conventional electrochemical capacitors while the total power delivery capability approaches 10 times that of lithium-ion batteries.

—Dr. Paula Hammond, Bayer Chair Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT

In addition to their high power output, the carbon nanotube electrodes demonstrate very good stability over time. After 1,000 cycles of charging and discharging a test battery there was no detectable change in the material’s performance.

Carbon fluoride batteries have been around since the 1970s, featuring high energy density, high temperature performance, and shelf life. However, they have suffered from limited power capability and reduced low temperature performance. Contour developed a proprietary process that introduces fluorine into the carbon material that provides a fundamentally different atomic structure than traditional carbon fluoride materials to address those limitations. Contour is developing both advanced primary and next-generation rechargeable (secondary) battery systems.

The management team includes co-founder Dr. Robert Grubbs, a Nobel Laureate in Chemistry with CalTech, as well as executives from Energizer, Duracell, ConocoPhillips and Ultralife. Contour maintains exclusive technology licensing agreements with the California Institute of Technology as well as strategic partnerships with Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA, Schlumberger, and other academic and private institutions.

As a result of its most recent funding efforts, Contour has completed a new state-of-the art headquarters, R&D laboratory and prototype manufacturing facility in Azusa, California as well as a cathode powder manufacturing site in Yuma, Arizona.


  • Seung Woo Lee, Naoaki Yabuuchi, Betar M. Gallant, Shuo Chen, Byeong-Su Kim, Paula T. Hammond, & Yang Shao-Horn (2010) High-power lithium batteries from functionalized carbon nanotube electrodes. Nature Nanotechnology doi: 10.1038/nnano.2010.116



With a potential 500% increase in energy density and 1000% increase in power handling capability + extended number of cycles, this could become what extended range BEVs have been waiting for. Lets hope that those two (and many more) can mass produce it at an affordable cost.


I'm glad to see them flying under the radar and not making wild statements. They have the feel of a solid company with some backing that is investing in strategic tech.

I wouldn't be surprised to see them come out with a new tech that changes the market. The Carbon Flouride was known for all of it's good characteristics....except power density. With this cathode they may have a real winner.


But the article doesn't say 500% increase in energy density for a Li-Ion battery. It says "The energy output for a given weight of this new electrode material is over five times greater than for conventional electrochemical capacitors..."

Conventional electrochemical capacitors don't have anywhere near the gravimetric capacity of Li-Ion, except maybe Altairnano's Titanium battrery, which is only about 50Wh/kg. However, the previous post in the first paragraph indicates 200 mAh/g gravimetric capacity. battery.

LiCoO2 cathodes will store 140 mAh/g. So it's not bad.


The real game changer here is the cycleability. A battery that can handle 1000s of 80% discharges allows for smaller packs in PHEVs. IIRC, both the Volt and the Prius only use ~50% of their charge window.


I made the same observation the first time they ran a story about this before. But I did some reading on the Contour site where they talk about getting over 700Wh/kg and I'm making the "assumption" that they are using this technology to improve the cyclability and the power density of those same batteries.
Perhaps a bad assumption??? I can always hope :-)


I think they're saying that the electrodes are 10x better for a given weight of electrodes. It's like saying we will put 10 straws in your milkshake glass so we can drink it 10x faster, but the glass doesn't hold more. Even if they use 1/9th as much electrode and add electrolyte with the conserved weight, they still are not giving us a battery with substantially better storage density. It would be better for regenerative braking, especially for smaller PHEV and standard hybrids.


DaveD - i was going to mention that, but forgot. Anyway, if you read closely on the Contour Energy site, it says the 700Wh/kg is for "Contour's advanced primary CFx batteries", which are not rechargable.


I can't tell if they're using the same technology for rechargable batteries as they use for primary batteries, but 200 mAh/g is excellent, depending on how high current affects it. It doesn't use heavy metals like Cobalt, which is expensive. Argonne Labs Cathode stores about 250 mAh/g, but it uses Cobalt.

So the cost may be something like Li-iron batteries. But they would have 33% more range and could be charged a lot faster. It would be very significant advance if they get a product to he market with this performance.


Yeah, it's hard to tell which chemistry they're using for what from the press releases I've been able to find. They do mention they are working on rechargable CFx batteries now as well, but there really is no way to know if this new cathode could help the same way there.

And of course, the last wildcard hasn't been played: price.

But still, they have lots of good specs and even a real world 200Wh/kg with this type of power density for rapid charge and discharge and thousands of cycles would be a big step forward.


But I wish they mentioned the voltage too. LiFePO4 is 3.3 V @ 150 mAh/g = 495 mWh/g. The Contour Li-Floride primary batteries are only 3 V. If the nanotube variety is also 3 V @ 200 mAh/g = 600 mWh/g, then the Wh/g is 25% more than LiFePO4, not 33%. But at least they will charge faster. The spray-on method of applying the nanotubes sounds promising to keep cost down.


By the way, I frequently to refer to the wiki page on Li-Ion batteries. It has a nice chart to compare gravimetric capacity (mAh/g) to gravimetric energy (kWh/kg). When you see a measurement like 200 mAh/g, that's only the current you can draw out of a gram of molecules of the given material for an hour. To get energy, you need to multiply it times the voltage. The same chart gives the voltage (and gravimetric energy) for different types of cathodes and you can multiply yourself to check the numbers if you want. There's a chart for anodes too.


If anybody manage to build a 600 Wh/Kg rechargeable battery with 2000+ cycles at an affordable price, the battle for extended range BEVs would be won.

Their technology seems to have the potential to get there.


I wonder about chicken feathers as a inexpensive source of high quality carbon nanotubes?

These articles concentrate on the hydrogen storage potential, but these carbon fibers can be used for other purposes, for sure. They are very consistent and they are very cheap/virtually free.

Sincerely, Neil


"Wool estimates that it would take a 75-gallon tank to go 300 miles in a car using carbonized chicken feather fibers to store hydrogen. He says his team is working to improve that range."

It sounds like something that Thomas Edison would have done to find a filament for his electric light.


Hate to burst any bubbles here, but with Schlumberger as a lead investor, I'll bet there will never be an application for cars. Not until the last drop of oil burns up.


Oh creativforce...don't burst my bubble. After all, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.

I'm sure Schlumberger would only do the right thing LOL


"..through an exclusive technology licensing agreement.." sounds a lot like the GM/Chevron/Ovinsky/NiMH rechargeable batteries EV murder.

Even a young Bill Gates knew better than to give an IBM 'an exclusive' on a operating system he didn't own..


Actually, Gates tried to sell it to us, but we were too stupid to take it. It was just software, and everyone knows the hardware is the only thing with value ROFL



At some point the oilcos will need to acknowledge they are in a very unpopular business. This leads to shrinking profits and that is death for corporate execs. Carbon nanotubes and the processes to make them will vary widely and if a company sits on one process - another will arise to compete and improve on it. No one approach to energy storage will rule for long given the attention and dollars invested globally in battery technology.

All good news for electrification.

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