Rice News Release: Add boron for better batteries

By Newsroom America Feeds at 16 May 2013

SUMMARY: A graphene-boron compound is theoretically capable of storing double the energy of common graphite anodes used in lithium-ion batteries.

Rice University Office of Public Affairs / News & Media Relations

Editor¹s note: A link to an image for download appears at the end of this release.

David Ruth 713-348-6327 david@rice.edu

Mike Williams 713-348-6728 mikewilliams@rice.edu

Add boron for better batteries Rice University theorists say graphene-boron mix shows promise for lithium-ion batteries

HOUSTON ­ (May 16, 2013) ­ Frustration led to revelation when Rice University scientists determined how graphene might be made useful for high-capacity batteries.

Calculations by the Rice lab of theoretical physicist Boris Yakobson found a graphene/boron anode should be able to hold a lot of lithium and perform at a proper voltage for use in lithium-ion batteries. The discovery appears in the American Chemical Society¹s Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters .

The possibilities offered by graphene get clearer by the day as labs around the world grow and test the one-atom-thick form of carbon. Because it is as thin as possible, battery manufacturers hope to take advantage of graphene¹s massive surface area to store lithium ions. Counting both sides of the material, one gram would cover 2,630 square meters, or nearly half a football field.

But there¹s a problem. The ions don¹t stick to graphene very well.

³As often happens with graphene, people oversold how wonderful it would be to absorb lithium,² said Yakobson, whose group analyzes relationships between atoms based on their intrinsic energy. ³But in experiments, they couldn¹t see it, and they were frustrated.²

Scientists at the Honda Research Institute, who are interested in powerful batteries for electric cars, asked Yakobson to view the situation. ³We looked at the theoretical capacity of an ideal sheet of graphene, and then how it could or could not benefit from curvature (into a nanotube) or topological defects. Our initial expectation was that it would improve lithium binding.

³But the theory didn¹t show any significant improvement,² he said. ³I was disappointed, but the experimentalists were satisfied because now their observations made sense.²

Calculations involving graphene with defects, in which the honeycomb array is disrupted by five- and seven-atom polygons, fared no better. ³So we decided to explore defects of different types where we replace some carbon atoms with another element that creates more attractive sites for lithium,² he said. ³And boron is one of them.²

A carbon/boron compound in which a quarter of the carbon atoms are replaced by boron turned out to be nearly ideal as a way to activate graphene¹s ability to store lithium, Yakobson said. Boron attracts lithium ions into the matrix, but not so strongly that they can¹t be pulled away from a carbon/boron anode by a more attractive cathode.

³Having boron in the lattice gives very nice binding, so the capacity is good enough, two times larger than graphite,² the most commonly used electrode in commercial lithium-ion batteries, he said. ³At the same time, the voltage is also right.²

Yakobson and Rice graduate student Yuanyue Liu, first author of the paper, calculated that a fully lithiated sheet of two-dimensional graphene/boron would have a capacity of 714 milliamp hours per gram. That translates to an energy density of 2,120 watt-hours per kilogram, far greater than graphite, when paired with a commercial lithium cobalt oxide cathode. They also determined the material would not radically expand or contract as it charges and discharges.

³In this case, it seems quite reasonable and exceeds -- theoretically, at least -- what is available now,² Yakobson said.

An important step will be to find a way to synthesize the carbon/boron compound in large quantities. ³It does exist, but it¹s not commercially available,² he said.

Co-authors of the paper are Rice research associate Vasilii Artyukhov, Rice graduate student Mingjie Liu and Avetik Harutyunyan, a chief scientist at the Honda Research Institute.

The Honda Research Institute and the Department of Energy (DOE) supported the research. Computations were performed on the Rice DAVinCI system and the National Institute for Computational Sciences Kraken, both funded by the National Science Foundation, and the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center Hopper, supported by the DOE.


Read the abstract at http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jz400491b

This news release can be found online at http://news.rice.edu/2013/05/16/add-boron-for-better-batteries/

Follow Rice News and Media Relations via Twitter @RiceUNews

Related Materials:

Yakobson Group: http://biygroup.blogs.rice.edu

Honda Research Institute: http://www.honda-ri.com

Image for download:


A theory developed at Rice University determined that a graphene/boron compound would excel as an ultrathin anode for lithium-ion batteries. The compound would store far more energy than graphite electrodes used in current batteries. (Credit: Vasilii Artyukhov/Rice University)

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David Ruth Director of National Media Relations Rice University david@rice.edu 713-348-6327 612-702-9473


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