Chemist's discovery of new salt jumpstarts extended-life battery research for electric vehicles

May 12, 2009

A University of Rhode Island chemistry professor's discovery of a new salt has been received with enthusiasm by companies seeking to develop an advanced lithium ion battery for use in the next generation of hybrid and electric vehicles.

Brett Lucht, co-director of the URI Energy Center, recently received a $731,000 contract from the Batteries for Advanced Transportation Technologies program, which is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Vehicle Technologies. The URI professor and his research group have been studying the mechanism that causes lithium ion batteries to degrade over time.

"The lithium ion batteries that power laptops and cell phones and PDAs work well for those applications because those devices have short life spans, typically less than five years," Lucht said. "Now the push is on to make them effective for plug-in like the Chevy Volt. But to do that we have to make the batteries last twice as long."

Lithium ion batteries have greater energy density than the nickel metal hydride batteries currently used in hybrid vehicles, which means they can provide the same amount of power as batteries nearly twice their size and weight. Smaller, lighter weight batteries will help to extend the range and of hybrid vehicles.

"Most of the problems associated with the aging of batteries are due to the electrolyte - the liquid in the battery that contains dissolved salts and that allows the lithium ions to go back and forth between the electrodes," explained Lucht.

The structure of salts in battery electrolytes is much more complex than typical table salt (), according to Lucht. The best salts for lithium ion batteries are those that have high conductivity and excellent stability. "Few molecular structures are both," he said, "and we have discovered a new one."

A patent is pending on the new salt.

"If this is the salt of the future for the industry - which it could be - then it could mean millions of dollars in licensing fees to URI," Lucht said.

The researchers have been working closely on the salt with Yardney Technical Products of Pawcatuck, Conn., which makes specialty batteries for the military and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Several Fortune 500 companies will also be conducting tests on the salt.

In addition to his salt discovery, Lucht has also developed additives for lithium ion batteries that stabilize the salt in the battery electrolytes and inhibit its degradation due to heat. Patents are currently pending on this technology. These additives have been successfully tested in small lithium ion batteries, and testing in larger batteries is now under way.

Source: University of Rhode Island (news : web)

Explore further: Researchers open possible avenue to better electrolyte for lithium ion batteries

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User comments : 7

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galoot
not rated yet May 12, 2009
patent a method of producing the chemical, surely not the actual chemical itself?
jonnyboy
5 / 5 (1) May 12, 2009
patent a method of producing the chemical, surely not the actual chemical itself?


Wouldn't that depend upon whether he discovered the new salt or whether he created a new salt that never previously existed?
malapropism
not rated yet May 12, 2009
patent a method of producing the chemical, surely not the actual chemical itself?


No, the smart thing to do would be to patent first the chemical compound itself and then secondly a method for making it.

The problem with patenting only a method for making the compound is that if someone else develops another method, whether better or not, then potential competition is introduced despite the patent. However, if the discoverers are able to patent the novel compound itself then no matter what method is used to generate it, they have the market covered and can demand license fees.

The issue at stake here is that improved battery technology is worth an awful lot of money and protection of that for the period of a patent is therefore very important to the inventors and their organisation.
david_42
not rated yet May 13, 2009
You can patent the chemical, the production process and the application. All separately.
NeilFarbstein
1 / 5 (1) May 17, 2009
The controversy about patenting naturally occurring DNA genetic codes of genes does not have an effect on other chemical compounds and formulas- if it is a novel composition, it is patentable.
jerryd
not rated yet Jun 07, 2009

While nice to have a new salt we already have multiple Li salts that are stable, powerful. They just need orders to ramp up production.
Patents should not be given unless it's a newly made salt. If already known it should be prior art. If they come up with an unknown process to make it that process could be patented.
Sadly you have some like Chevron who bought the NiMH battery patents from GM, ect and then forced those making EV size batteries to stop thus stopping EV production for 10 yrs. That should be, I think it is illegal, and enforced.
NeilFarbstein
1 / 5 (1) Jun 19, 2009
What law makes it illegal? I think it is legal no matter how much harm it causes the people and the economy.

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