Graphene-boron mix shows promise for lithium-ion batteries

May 16, 2013
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

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 Boris Yakobson found a graphene/ 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 's 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 graphene's 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 there's a problem. The ions don't stick to graphene very well.

"As often happens with graphene, people oversold how wonderful it would be to absorb lithium," said Yakobson, whose group analyzes relationships between atoms based on their intrinsic energy. "But in experiments, they couldn't see it, and they were frustrated."

Scientists at the Honda Research Institute, who are interested in powerful batteries for , asked Yakobson to view the situation. "We 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 . Our initial expectation was that it would improve lithium binding.

"But the theory didn't show any significant improvement," he said. "I was disappointed, but the experimentalists were satisfied because now their observations made sense."

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

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 graphene's ability to store lithium, Yakobson said. Boron attracts lithium ions into the matrix, but not so strongly that they can't be pulled away from a carbon/boron by a more attractive cathode.

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

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.

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

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

Explore further: Research aims to improve rechargeable batteries by focusing on graphene oxide paper

More information: pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jz400491b

Related Stories

Discovery points way to graphene circuits

Aug 05, 2011

Rice University materials scientists have made a fundamental discovery that could make it easier for engineers to build electronic circuits out of the much-touted nanomaterial graphene.

Recommended for you

The simplest element: Turning hydrogen into 'graphene'

Dec 16, 2014

New work from Carnegie's Ivan Naumov and Russell Hemley delves into the chemistry underlying some surprising recent observations about hydrogen, and reveals remarkable parallels between hydrogen and graphene ...

Future batteries: Lithium-sulfur with a graphene wrapper

Dec 16, 2014

What do you get when you wrap a thin sheet of the "wonder material" graphene around a novel multifunctional sulfur electrode that combines an energy storage unit and electron/ion transfer networks? An extremely ...

User comments : 3

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

InterestedAmateur
3 / 5 (2) May 16, 2013
Yes this is a flippant comment not intended to be taken seriously or create offence but I can't resist it.
I'm waiting for Graphene to be nominated as the next wonder food as it appears that there is nothing it cannot do. Radium once once held in awe and had a wonderful run as a cure-all until they realised it was lethal.

Again, yes this is a flippant comment but it least it doesn't relate to the Earth being 6,000 years old, alien abduction or hanging-ten on an Aether wave.. I'm just in a whimsical mood...

Have a good day and in the words of the TV character Sheldon Cooper, "What's life without whimsy?".
Egleton
3 / 5 (4) May 17, 2013
I worked out that my yacht with it's 10kW motor could go for 21 hours on 100 kg of the stuff. (Not counting regenerative braking) Let us hope that they manage to make the Lithium stable. Fire on a yacht is not good.
italba
2.6 / 5 (5) May 17, 2013
Regenerative braking on a yacht? And where do you find a downhill sea?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.