Researchers at Rice University have come up with a new way to boost the efficiency of the ubiquitous lithium ion (LI) battery by employing ribbons of graphene that start as carbon nanotubes.
Proof-of-concept anodes — the part of the battery that stores lithium ions — built with graphene nanoribbons (GNRs) and tin oxide showed an initial capacity better than the theoretical capacity of tin oxide alone, according to Rice chemist James Tour. After 50 charge-discharge cycles, the test units retained a capacity that was still more than double that of the graphite currently used for LI battery anodes.
In the new experiments, the Rice lab mixed graphene nanoribbons and tin oxide particles about 10 nanometers wide in a slurry with a cellulose gum binder and a bit of water, spread it on a current collector and encased it in a button-style battery. GNRs are a single atom thick and thousands of times longer than they are wide. The GNRs not only separate and support the tin oxide but also help deliver lithium ions to the nanoparticles.
Lab tests showed initial charge capacities of more than 1,520 milliamp hours per gram (mAh/g). Over repeated charge-discharge cycles, the material settled into a solid 825 mAh/g. “It took about two months to go through 50 cycles,” said lead author Jian Lin, a postdoctoral researcher at Rice, who believes it could handle many more without losing significant capacity.
GNRs could also help overcome a prime difficulty with LI battery development. Lithium ions tend to expand the material they inhabit, and the material contracts when they’re pulled away. Over time, materials like silicon, which shows extraordinary capacity for lithium, break down and lose their ability to store ions.