Carbon discovery has battery promise

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Image of smartphones on top of a laptop

A new form of carbon created by scientists at Lancaster University and China's Jilin University could be utilised to improve the safety, power, charge speed and lifespan of batteries for phones, computers and electric vehicles.

And, as with many other discoveries, there was an element of chance involved in the creation of OSPC-1 by the researchers, who were carrying out work to create porous forms of carbon.

During their work the team, who were supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the Royal Society and the National Natural Science Foundation of China, realised that one of the forms of carbon they had created could store a large volume of lithium ions and also conduct electricity.

The researchers compared OSPC-1's performance against graphite, the industry standard model for anodes within lithium-ion batteries, and discovered that it can store more than twice as many lithium ions, and therefore power, as graphite at the same mid-range speed of charging.

As a result, it shows huge potential for use within lithium-ion batteries, which are used in mobile phones, laptops, power tools, electric vehicles, airplanes and satellites.

Uniquely, OSPC-1 has been created at the molecular level using a complex technique called 'Eglinton homocoupling'. This involves removing silicon from carbon-silicon groups to produce carbon to carbon links. The resulting structure is amorphous, very stable, and, crucially, highly conductive.

Another major advantage of OSPC-1 is its safety. It does not form dendrites. These are lithium metal fibres that can form when lithium gets stuck on the surface of graphite. If the dendrites build up and reach across to the cathode they can short circuit lithium-ion batteries and cause them to explode into flames.

OSPC-1 also appears to be much more longer-lasting than graphite. The team of scientists tested it over 100 charging and discharging cycles and there were no signs of deterioration. Graphite expands and contracts each time it is charged and discharged, which makes it susceptible to cracking. The open-framework structure of OSPC-1 means it is less brittle and not as prone to these weaknesses.

Dr Abbie Trewin, from Lancaster University's Department of Chemistry and Materials Science Institute, and co-lead author of the study, said: Our team has used an entirely new method to produce the only porous carbon designed at the molecular level.

This new material, OSPC-1, is a highly promising anode material for lithium-ion batteries with a high lithium capacity, an impressive charge and discharge rate capability, potential for a long lifespan, and for significantly improved safety performance.

We believe OSPC-1 has great potential in those situations where failure could lead to loss of life, or the loss of very expensive equipment in the case of satellites.

The team's discovery has been covered by several major media organisations, including The Times, The Sun and the Daily Mail.

Reference: PN 43-18