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