The race to devise a next generation electrical storage system is heating up, with batteries competing with ultra-capacitors and hydrogen fuel cell technologies. In all three of these technologies, nanotechnology is held out as the key to breakthrough products. Our money is on batteries to extend their lead as the most practical overall solution out there.
A few days ago, Altair Nanotechnologies announced in a press release the long life specifications for its advanced lithium ion battery. This follows two earlier press releases, one regarding safety aspects, and one regarding fast charge features. Altair intends to release a fourth backgrounder on their new battery power capacity. Since most lithium ion batteries pack a usable 200+ watts per kilogram (some claim energy densities up to and over 300 watts per kilogram), we might expect no surprises there, but who knows?
In all of their press releases so far on this topic, longevity, quick charges, and heat management, Altair claims it is “replacing graphite with a patented nano-titanate material as the negative electrode in its NanoSafe batteries” which allows the breakthrough specifications.
For example, regarding the longevity of the battery, Altair says “This nano-titanate material is a “zero strain” material in terms of lithium ion internal deposition and release. The lithium ions have the same size as the sites they occupy in the nano-titanate particles. As a result the nano-titanate particles do not have to expand or shrink when the ions are entering or leaving the nano-titanate particles, therefore resulting in no (zero) strain to the nano-titanate material. This property results in a battery that can be charged and discharged significantly more often than conventional rechargeable batteries because of the absence of particle fatigue that plagues materials such as graphite. Conventional lithium batteries can be typically charged about 750 times before they are no longer useful, whereas, in laboratory testing, the Altairnano NanoSafe battery cells have now achieved over 9,000 charge and discharge cycles at charge and discharge rates up to 40 times greater than are typical of common batteries, and they still retain up to 85% charge capacity.”
In their backgrounder on why their battery can charge quickly, Altair makes some noteworthy claims: “By using nano-titanate materials as the negative electrode material, lithium metal plating does not occur because the electro-chemical properties of the nano-titanate allow the deposition of lithium in the particles at high rates. These electrical properties mean that even at very cold temperatures there is no risk of plating. No undesirable interaction takes place with the electrolyte in the Altairnano batteries, which permits the battery to be charged very rapidly, without the risk of shorting or thermal runaway. In fact, in recent laboratory testing, Altairnano has demonstrated that a NanoSafe cell can be charged to over 80% charge capacity in about one minute.”
Similarly, when discussing safety features, Altair believes their design precludes “thermal runaway” problems, stating “Using an innovative approach to rechargeable battery chemistry Altairnano uses a patented nano-titanate material as the negative electrode in its NanoSafe batteries. By making this novel change to traditional battery design it has achieved a high powered battery that is thermally stable, and therefore can not exhibit thermal runaway. By removing the highly reactive graphite from the battery design, and instead using nano-titanate materials as the negative electrode material no interaction takes place with the electrolyte in the Altairnano batteries. This results in an inherently safe battery.
Clearly this “nano-titanate” is the key ingredient. When will production versions of these batteries become available? How much will a powerpack cost that delivers, say, 50 usable KWh per charge? When will Altair no longer be just another promising research company with interesting battery technology, and graduate to actually manufacturing or licensing their designs to supply a burgeoning industry? And exactly what is the watt-hours per kilogram capacity for their new battery?
If you check the Yahoo finance profile on Altair (ALTI), you will see they are a research company, with a net loss of $12.6 million for the 12 month period ended 6-30-06, and at that time they had $14.4 million worth of cash available. So they have till mid-2007 to either raise more investor capital or start selling products. Their stock price is trending up, so maybe they’ll go back to the well.
There are hosts of companies that are springing up to do conversions of gas powered cars into battery powered cars. But how successful they are, ultimately, depends on research companies like Altair delivering the goods. Who will be shipping the next generation battery? Keep an eye on these guys.