Researchers develop nanotubes to reduce battery costs

May 29, 2012, 2:02 a.m.

Stanford researchers have found that carbon nanotubes could help replace platinum in future batteries, significantly reducing production costs.

A carbon nanotube is a synthetic sheet made of pure carbon rolled up into tube shapes. According to a report on Nanotechnology Now’s website, these nanotubes can be up to 10,000 times thinner than a human hair.

This technology could replace platinum as a catalyst in batteries, which is a major long-term goal in developing affordable future battery chemistries, including the lithium-air battery, which can have up to 10 times the energy density of current batteries.

“Platinum is very expensive and thus impractical for large-scale commercialization,” said Hongjie Dai, a chemistry professor and co-author of the study, to Nanotechnology Now. “Developing a low-cost alternative has been a major research goal for several decades.”

Two properties allow carbon nanotubes to be useful in batteries: electrical conductivity and catalytic activity. Previously, nanotubes had not performed well in batteries because the catalytic property depends on impurities and holes in the nanotube structure and the electrical property depends on the integrity of the nanotube structure.

However, a group of researchers led by postdoctoral fellow Yanguang Li, working in conjunction with researchers at Vanderbilt University, created a nanotube model with both properties. The model consists of multiple nanotubes wrapped concentrically around one another, with the top layer shredded to enhance catalytic activity.


-Matt Bettonville

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