Is This Asphalt Battery Breakthrough Actually Legit?

2 weeks ago by Domenick Yoney 46

Scanning electron microscope images show an anode of asphalt, graphene nanoribbons and lithium at left and the same material without lithium at right.

“Asphalt” chemistry said to speed recharging by 20 X

In the electric vehicle world, battery breakthroughs are heralded on the regular, but really, very few of them are even worth their weight in headline space. New chemistries might promise great recharging speed, but lack decent energy density. Some promise terrific energy density, but miss the mark on cycle life (longevity). This recent discovery by boffins at Rice University, specifically, the lab of chemist James Tour, has some pretty solid and exciting numbers, though.

Charts and graphs.

Before we talk about how this chemistry works, which, while interesting, probably won’t mean much to non-scientists, let’s look at these digits. The big one, the number we generally like to look at first, is energy density. Today, the top commercial automotive cells are in the 300-350 watt-hours per kilogram neighborhood. This so-called “asphalt battery,” at 943 Wh/kg, holds as much as triple that, meaning a thousand pound battery might end up being around 350 lbs. Lighter is better, of course, because it brings improvements to range and vehicle dynamics.

Usually, when good energy density is achieved, power output suffers. But according to this paper, which was published in  American Chemical Society journal ACS Nano, this tech is can put out 1,322 watts per kilogram. Now, it doesn’t say whether this is a pulsed or continuous output, but either way, it’s plenty of power.

Recharging wise, it looks capable of paradigm-changing speed. Think about a 20 times improvement over today’s typical cell (and what that would mean for EV uptake in the future.)  Five minute charging? Yes, please. Says Tour,

“The capacity of these batteries is enormous, but what is equally remarkable is that we can bring them from zero charge to full charge in five minutes, rather than the typical two hours or more needed with other batteries.”

Similarly, cycle life — how long a cell can retain at least 80 percent of its energy storage capacity after it has been charged and discharged a number of times — seems robust. After 500 cycles, it showed “exceptional stability,” and the paper takes pains to point out the formulation prevents the formation of dendrites, which can lead, eventually, to cell destruction of the unwanted fiery kind.

The secret to these cells is gilsonite, a derivative of asphalt, being blended with conductive graphene nanoribbons, which are then coated with lithium metal by means of electrochemical deposition. Also, the lab “combined the anode with a sulfurized-carbon cathode to make full batteries for testing.” So simple, am I right?

Although the cells show better potential than just about anything we’ve seen, there is no mention made of commercialization. We can only imagine things are happening behind the scene, though, so we’ll be keeping our ears glued to the ground. If you want a few more technical details about this promising chemistry, hit the link below.

Source: Rice University

H/T to Neptronix

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46 responses to "Is This Asphalt Battery Breakthrough Actually Legit?"

  1. Magnus H says:

    “graphene nanoribbons” ?

    My Buzzword sense is tingling.

    1. James says:

      Asphalt is made from bitumen, the heaviest component of crude oil…

      1. L'amata says:

        If anyone can solve this mystical battery equation I think John Goodenough Can and Hopefully Very soon , He’s in great health now , Let’s not forget he’s 94/95yrs old …How long can he stay healthy at this ripe age, & how long can he stay alive to finish this project. hopefully a Long time …, However, I’m afraid the years always seem to take their Toll on all things.

    2. Dav8or says:

      Wake me up when they have a working prototype. Preferably installed in a car. Otherwise just more battery noise blah, blah, blah to try to scare up venture capital to keep the “boffins” employed.

  2. Ambulator says:

    The reported coulombic efficiency is very poor at 96%. Well above 99% is needed for a long lasting battery.

    The recent announcement by Toshiba of a new SCiD battery, using niobium, is more promising and a lot closer to production. Still, not likely to be of use in cars anytime soon.

    1. Ambulator says:

      Sorry, I meant SCiB.

    2. Alaa says:

      If I can triple my range for the price of losing 4% in the coulombic efficiency then I will gladly pay that price. So in numbers, let us say that a model 3 will go for 310 miles X 3 = 930 miles. And for that I will lose 4% of the kWh that I have to put in the battery, I would say that this is better than charging a smaller battery and losing 1% every time which is 3% if I have to charge it 3 times to get the same distance.

      If this battery is out in the market then the average driver will need to charge once a month or so. That is a huge advantage. Think of the military use of such a battery. Do you really want to wait to charge in a war situation? Or would you pay that 4% to get a charge quickly?

      The other good thing is the number of cycles. at 500 you will charge for almost 10 years once a week. Say 1,000 miles per week for 10 years that is 500,000 miles. Again this is fantastic for a military application but not for a Taxi maybe.

      At any rate if this turns out to be a hype then so be it. One day we will get there.

      1. Lee says:

        What Ambulator said is correct. 96% coulombic efficiency will not give a long lasting battery. A good coulombic efficiency is 99.8 %. They only say “exceptional stability” at 500 cycles. Maybe it is stable at 10% capacity.

      2. Ambulator says:

        The loss of energy from a low coulombic efficiency (CE) is minor, but it implies the battery can’t take many charge cycles. You put in 100 electrons and only 96 come back out; the other 4 must be reacting with the battery in a destructive way.

        Actually, I don’t see how they could even get 500 cycles with only a 96% CE. In fact, looking at the supplementary data they show 200 cycles with 20% degradation at 1C, with the CE starting at around 96% and rising. (How much I can’t see, since the graph starts at zero. This is one case where you don’t want to base your graphs at zero.) The 500 cycles must have been at a very low C rate, too low for a car.

        1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

          “The 500 cycles must have been at a very low C rate, too low for a car.”

          If a 96% coulombic efficiency means 4% loss to heat when charging, and heavy discharging (such as heavy acceleration, mountain climbing, and running at high speed), then that’s a lot of heat loss which the car’s battery cooling system won’t be able to handle. As I understand it, the cells themselves used in production EVs are at least 98% efficient at charging, and probably a bit better. So 96% efficiency probably represents more than double the heat loss. That won’t only limit charging speed, it will also limit acceleration and top speed.

          No, I don’t think we’ll see this type of battery in production EVs.

          1. Ambulator says:

            A 96% efficiency would be fine, although a little disappointing. A 96% coulombic efficiency is terrible. A less that 100% efficiency means some energy is lost as heat. A less than 100% coulombic efficiency means your battery is being destroyed.

            1. Mint says:

              If you look at the right graph, it goes from 96% to almost 99%, so whatever reactions are happening, they seem to be reducing rapidly with cycling. The capacity isn’t dropping, either.

              Anyway, if this is the real deal, it’ll be found in cell phones first, where a fast charging high density battery would fetch over $1000/kWh.

          2. Ben says:

            Compare: When an object rolls down a hill it converts potential energy to heat by friction, just like electrons in a conductor “rolling down” the electric potential (voltage). It does not mean, that the object will suddenly disappear. Electrons do not disappear. Bad coulombic efficiency sounds like a lot of unwanted chemical reactions are going on. I think this is not a typical li-ion battery chemistry, but a li-metal battery, which was notoriously unreliable and dangerous in the past, as lithium in its pure form loves to react exothermally.

            1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

              “When an object rolls down a hill it converts potential energy to heat by friction…”

              Ummmm…. No. Just no. Heat generated by friction comes from loss of inertia or kinetic energy, not from potential energy.

              Potential energy is an energy accounting trick, a convenient fiction, which physicists use to balance their equations for energy gained and lost by (for example) the acceleration of a falling object in a gravity field.

      3. Cosmacelf says:

        The other problem that is rarely mentioned in research papers is that for an EV battery, you TYPICALLY would be charging at night via a house electric connection. That is a slow charge. Many cells perform a LOT worse from a longevity perspective when charged slowly than when charged quickly.

        Finally, button cell performance is quite different from cells the size needed for EVs where you have heat effects while charging.

        So, yeah, even IF all the numbers looked good (the coulombic efficiency sucks), it still takes a lot of technology to make a viable cell.

    3. Chris O says:

      Toshiba is a troubled concern these days and could really use some miracle battery tech to boost investor’s confidence. That’s exactly why I take its miracle battery close to production report with a pinch of salt.

  3. Chris O says:

    I think the last battery breakthrough announcement that was actually legit was lithium-ion in the late eighties. I’m sure this one shows “some pretty solid and exciting numbers”, but don’t they all?

    Still, even though nothing will most likely come of them it’s interesting to learn about these supposed “battery breakthroughs”.

    1. L'amata says:

      The HoG-Wash Battery, They all show great numbers in the Lab, Let’s see what they do on the street..Let’s hope I’m wrong..BTW, I wonder if they Ignite .

  4. Morrisg says:

    Click through the Rice University link and take a close look at real university research. This is solid science and indicative of the battery advancements we will see in the next decade. While batteries based on this chemistry will take a few more years to arrive in the marketplace, they will have a huge positive impact on the electrification of transportation and storage of renewable energy from solar and wind. The fossil fuel era is truly coming to an end.

    1. James says:

      Asphalt is made from fossil fuels…

      1. Kyuu says:

        It’s made from petroleum, but it’s not burned so there’s no carbon emission, no NOx, and no particulates. Petroleum extraction would continue even if fossil fuels we’re completely defunct for energy use, since it is used for other things, such as asphalt, plastics, etc. But again, not burning it, so it’s not as much of an environmental concern.

        1. Ziv says:

          I was told that all fossil fuels are evil. Ergo…

  5. Eco says:

    Lithium ‘metal’ batteries promise much higher energy density but dendrites are the Achilles heel of any solid metal battery … since Li-ion doesn’t have metallic Lithium, dendrites don’t form … but if Rice U has indeed found that Asphalt suppresses dendrite growth, the technology could be legit.

    1. KM says:

      I think you got it wrong. It is the other way round.

      1. KM says:

        To clarify – I disagree with your comment is on dendrites. Solid state batteries should not suffer from them.

        1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

          Right. Ionic Material’s polymer “plastic battery” doesn’t form dendrites, either.

          But for any potential EV battery, we must ask other questions: What is the expected life cycle? How many times can the battery be cycled before it loses too much capacity?

          What is the cost? Is the cost to manufacture competitive with batteries currently used in EVs?

          What is the energy density? Can the batteries be made small enough to fit into a mass produced EV?

          Are there limits to the charging or discharging speed? Can it be charged and discharged rapidly without overheating?

          Are there any special properties the battery requires? For example, will it operate only within a narrow range of temperatures?

          Until those questions can be answered, we can’t possibly know if any new or unusual type of battery will ever be practical to use in a mass produced passenger car EV.

        2. Chris O says:

          It’s my understanding that solid state due to the way the layers are no longer separated by fluid electrolyte are especially vulnerable to dendrites.

          1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

            According to this excerpt from a PBS “Nova” episode about Ionic Materials’ plastic battery, the plastic material between the electrodes, while allowing free passage of lithium ions, blocks formation of dendrites:

            Every EV advocate should watch that entire episode: “Search for the Super Battery”.

            1. spice says:

              Fascinating, thx. Battery technology is certainly the area where significant advances are required.

        3. Eco says:

          “Solid State” refers to ‘non-liquid’ electrolyte.

          “Solid Metal” refers to the electrodes in most batteries including lead-acid, nickel-cadmium, zinc-manganese…

  6. Ever says:

    This scientific paper is being published on the wrong date; how about April first?

    1. Will Davis says:

      A sensible skepticism is healthy. An outright skepticism to the exclusion of all else is just plain ignorant.

    2. super390 says:

      Don’t smear Rice University, one of America’s finest academic institutions, and the location of the lab where fullerenes were first synthesized, winning a Nobel Prize for Richard Smalley and triggering the current revolution in nanomaterials.

  7. AtlantaCourier says:

    Asphalt is a petroleum product. Wouldn’t it be ironic if this technology was indeed a true battery breakthrough?

    1. William says:

      The Devil is always in the Details!
      Rice U. will be a true battery research leader if this latest “asphalt” graphene nanoribbions development, eventually comes to some sort commercial production fruition.

      Keep the battery lab research grants going to Rice University!

  8. SJC says:

    This is true university lab data. These are metal lithium anodes with sulfur cathodes, they WOULD have greater specific energy and energy density.

  9. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

    Well, I’m sure this claim will turn out to lead to a real breakthru in commercial rechargeable batteries at least as much as 99.5% of all such claims do. That is… not even remotely.

    I keep hoping that someday, one of these claims we see about twice a month will actually lead to something that will be produced and put into EVs. But over the past 9 years or so that I’ve been following the field… not so much.

    “The storage battery is, in my opinion, a catchpenny, a sensation, a mechanism for swindling the public by stock companies. The storage battery is one of those peculiar things which appeals to the imagination, and no more perfect thing could be desired by stock swindlers than that very selfsame thing. … Just as soon as a man gets working on the secondary battery it brings out his latent capacity for lying.” — Thomas Edison, 1883

    “My top advice really for anyone who says they’ve got some breakthrough battery technologies, please send us a sample cell, okay, don’t send us PowerPoint. Just send us one cell that works with all appropriate caveats; that would be great. That… sorts out the nonsense and the claims that aren’t actually true. Talk is super cheap; the battery industry has to have more B.S. in it than any industry I’ve ever encountered. It’s insane.” –Elon Musk, Nov. 5, 2014

    1. DJ says:

      If there is one thing Elon knows it’s BS so it must be true 🙂

    2. bogdan says:

      What Musk is saying is: don’t trust a chart unless you manipulated yourself!

  10. James P Heartney says:

    Before you get too excited about theoretical 5-minute recharge times, bear in mind that in order to put that much energy into a battery that quickly, you need wiring able to handle the current. And the wiring for that kind of throughput has a theoretical minimum of six or eight inches diameter. Remember, that’s not just for the cord running into the car; it’s also the wires in the car going to the battery.

    Bottom line: even with magical new chemistry that can withstand that sort of charge, go for thousands of cycles, fit in the available space, and be produced at an affordable price, we’re still talking about 20-30 minute charge cycles.

    1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

      “…the wiring for that kind of throughput has a theoretical minimum of six or eight inches diameter.”

      Or, you could just increase the voltage. 🙂

      Now, if you increase the voltage too much then you have to start worrying about spark gap distance, but I’m sure we’ll eventually see BEVs which can charge 300+ miles in less than 10 minutes, using internal cables inside the car far less than 6 inches in diameter.

      In fact, based on a conversation long ago on TheEESTory forum, with an electrical engineer familiar with high voltage designs, I rather think it will use main cables and/or bus bars not much more than 1 inch in diameter, if it’s copper. But quite possibly they’ll use aluminum to reduce cost, which will require larger diameter to achieve the same low resistance, but still far less than 6 inches!

      1. James P Heartney says:

        Hope you’re right. Still, 10 minutes rather than 5. Not to mention you still have to generate the wattage.

        1. Ziv says:

          I agree that the jump from a BEV “filling up” in 10 minutes would be a lot less of an engineering marvel that a 5 minute fill up. But I would also note that car makers work to satisfy 80% of the car buying public, not 100%. So for most people a 10 to 15 minute charging session (that nets another 2 to 3 hours of additional highway AER) every month of two won’t be a problem.
          Don’t manufacture a charging infrastructure that is shaped by the most demanding 10% of the car buying public who claim they won’t buy an electric car unless it charges 300 miles of additional AER in 5 minutes. They aren’t worth the extra expense and complexity that that sort of speed would require because they are a decided minority.
          Find out what rate would satisfy or please 80% of the car buying public and design the charging system to meet their expectations. I would bet that number wouldn’t be much over 150 kW charge rates. I would bet that it would be well under a 500 kW charge rate, which would keep the system relatively straightforward and the cooling apparatus needed would not need to be as robust.

          1. ziv says:

            My first sentence is a bit of a mess. What I tried to say was that a 10 minute target for recharging a BEV is a lot easier target than doing so in 5 minutes. The engineering issues for charging 150 to 300 kW charge rates are a lot easier/less expensive to deliver than charge rates in excess of 500 kW. The issue of heat build up alone makes the super fast chargers more complicated and expensive, then there are all the other issues inherent in 500+ kW charge rates.

        2. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

          “Hope you’re right. Still, 10 minutes rather than 5.”

          I have no doubt that competition will drive BEV charging times down below 15 minutes. Convenience is worth paying for.

          OTOH I’m not at all sure competition will drive charging times down to 5 minutes. Faster charging demands higher power, and at some point, the increased cost for the power required to reduce the charging time by another minute, is too high to justify the increased cost.

          Of course I don’t have the info needed to perform a cost/benefit analysis and figure out where the “sweet spot” is which future BEV charging will settle on as the standard. In part, that will depend on the exact characteristics of whatever type of faster-charging batteries we wind up using.

          But my guess is that the “sweet spot” will be somewhere around 8-10 minutes for 300 miles’ worth of charge. Since most charging will continue to be slow charging done at home or work, most fast-charging will be for long trips, where the driver and passengers will want to take a few minutes’ break anyway, to visit the rest room, grab a soda from the convenience store, or stretch their legs.

          So, a 5 minute charge seems to be of limited usefulness. Sure, there will always be those who are in a hurry and will want charging time to be as short as possible. But markets aim at the average user, not the most demanding ones.

          Hopefully those exercising critical thinking have already noticed that there are several unstated assumptions in my conclusion. Obviously things could develop differently, depending on exactly what tech breakthroughs happen over the next 10-15 years… which is a long-winded way of saying that my remarks here are entirely speculative.

  11. Some Guy says:

    “Graphene nanoribbons” sounds a wee bit more expensive than graphite, the standard anode material currently employed. Also, getting the lithium on there by “electrodeposition” is an extra step (complicated and possibly difficult to up-scale), as standard Li-ion batteries are assembled with all lithium coveniently stored in the cathode until first charge.
    I’m absolutely confident that this breakthrough technology in this form will never be used in a mass production EV.

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