Safer batteries, Boeing?

Boeing’s high profile 787 (mostly composite) Dreamliner has seen a lot of unwanted press for the challenges it has had with some of its on board lithium batteries, which caught on fire recently, resulting in one of its biggest customer (Japan Airlines) grounding all of its 787s to check things out.Lithium batteries are long-time standout performer in terms of energy density (storage) but have long been challenged by overheating and catching fire as happened in 2006 with Dell laptop batteries, 2011 with the Chevy Volt battery and this past month with Boeing.  Go to any advanced battery conference and you’ll hear them talk about the five things that matter in batteries: density, power, lifetime/capacity, cost and safety.   Battery industry experts will tell you that every battery chemistry has trade-offs between these five aspects, with few offering meaningful solutions that deliver high performance with safety.

All batteries suffer from these problems as all batteries use metal foils (copper and aluminum) as current collectors in the batteries’ electrodes.  And metal is part of the overheating and catching fire problem.  So, if there were a way to use something other than metal as a current collector, it might address the safety issue, provided it didn’t negatively affect the other performance issues.

It appears that replacing the copper and aluminum metal foils with Nanocomp’s carbon nanotube (CNT) sheets might substantively reduce thermal runaway (and so fires.). See this link to an abstract of a recent paper published by Georgia Tech on the multi-functional benefits of CNT sheets as metal current collector replacements in batteries.  If this works, it may well be the only non-metallic  current collector–and so the only safe current collector–ever demonstrated.

Oh, and in addition to producing a prospectively safer battery, the Company believes its nano sheet current collectors will–due to the enormous surface area of these CNT sheet–more than triple the energy density of metal-based lithium batteries.    If the Company can make them cheap and long lasting, these current collector replacements might become a definitive and transformative material platform for this important industry.

CNT wires will save millions in fuel for the aviation industry and millions in CO2 for the rest of us

Airplanes are heavy things. Heavy things that need to get, and stay, in the air consume a whole lot of  fuel–airlines spend upwards of $20,000/yr or more to fly a pound of weight around. For years, there’s been slow, steady progress in replacing these air structures’ metallic bodies with lightweight materials–typically carbon fiber composites. Most of us know carbon fiber from tennis rackets, golf clubs and skis, which help us conserve and optimize our human energy in the sports we play. So it is in air and space, except the energy saved is $5 (and rising) fuel.

More than half of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner airframe is made of carbon fiber and other composites, displacing heavier metals, saving 20% of the fuel costs. A flight from NY to LA on the Dreamliner can save 20% of its $40K fuel cost compared to non-composite air frames.

Having made progress in addressing the biggest weight component, what’s left for aviation companies like Boeing and Airbus? Well, turns out that there’s some 8,000-10,000 pounds of wire and cable–about 90% power cables, 10% data cables (much from in-flight entertainment systems–on airplanes.  At $20,000/pound of weight, those copper wires cost the industry some $20 million per year to tote around. Until recently, there wasn’t much anyone could do about copper weight–no real viable conductive alternatives copper without the associated weight.

So, what’s in a data cable? Strip off the plastic (polymer) exterior and you’ll find a core conductor (wire) made of copper wrapped with an electro-magnetic interference (EMI) metallic tape. Nanocomp–the world’s first and only producer of sheets, tapes, wires and yarns made of carbon nanotubes (CNT), produces both an all CNT core conductor and an all CNT EMI shielding wrap (see photo below)

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At the 2012 International Wire and Cable show, Stephanie Harvey at Tyco Electronics presented results (http://www.slideshare.net/mgurau/cn-tas-conductor11142012) of a test that included the world’s first functioning data cable made of all carbon conductor and shielding–data cables that are 70% lighter than its copper equivalent saving $14,000,000 of fuel ($20,000/pound * 1,000 pounds * 70% weight savings) per year.

The aviation industry is one of the biggest contributors to CO2–A pound of weight in air translates to 20 pounds of CO2. So that 700 pounds of weight saved per plane translates to 14,000 pounds of avoided CO2 per year per plane.  One day soon, Nanocomp will produce all carbon power cables and be in a position to help the aviation industry save nearly $120,000,000 in fuel per year and as much as 140,000 pounds of avoided CO2 pollution per year. Over the twenty year life of a plane, that’s $2.4B in saved fuel and 2.8M pounds of avoided CO2.  Not a bad for carbon string and tape…

The dawn of the carbon laptop

Thinkpad’s new X1 Carbon laptop case are made of carbon fiber http://www.lenovo.com/products/us/laptop/thinkpad/x-series/x1-carbon/ . Here’s a bet: within seven years, Nanocomp’s materials will –like carbon fiber–serve as the structural frame but –unlike carbon fiber—also serve as as the antenna, the battery and capacitor electrodes, the EMI shielding to manage radio signals, and the heat sink for the circuit boards. Mobile devices may be sooner..

Thermal Challenges in Today’s Commercial and Military Aviation « Electronics Cooling Magazine – Focused on Thermal Management, TIMs, Fans, Heat Sinks, CFD Software, LEDs/Lighting

Thermal Challenges in Today’s Commercial and Military Aviation « Electronics Cooling Magazine – Focused on Thermal Management, TIMs, Fans, Heat Sinks, CFD Software, LEDs/Lighting.

This piece highlights the significant electrical power demands of our modern fleets of aircraft and highlights the needs for lightweight solutions (wires, etc) and improved thermal management systems.  Nanocomp has ready solutions for both and is currently engaged with major aircraft makers to deliver lightweight wire and cable solutions.  FYI–one pound of weight saved on an airplane translates to $20,000 of fuel over the course of a year.

Aviation is going strong

Aviation Today just published an article that described the growth in airplane production, which is expected to be robust for some time to come.    Given the many places on a plane that Nanocomp’s material serve, Nanocomp feels very bullish about the outlook for adoption of its aviation- and space-qualified carbon nanotube sheets, tapes, wires and yarns.  Weight reduction is perhaps the single biggest issue for aviation companies and Nanocomp’s strong, lightweight and conductive products stand to signficantly reduce weight and so save fuel for this industry.   Nanocomp has seen data that suggests that a pound of weight in a commercial airplane uses $20,000-50,000 of fuel per year or $400,000-$1,000,000 per aircraft over its twenty year life.   The Company’s products can be used in lightweight composite structures for fuselage and parts, wires and cables for transmitting data and conducting electricity, de-icing and lightning strike protection, thermal management systems and electro-magnetic interference (EMI) shielding. Nanocomp’s products stand to complement or displace metals like aluminum and copper and carbon fiber and polymer composites.  An important benefit over metals: Nanocomp’s carbon-based systems don’t corrode like metals do, have a much higher breaking strength (several orders of magnitude), and are not as vulnerable to radiation and other environmental conditions.   There are some 60 miles of copper wire, translating to 8,.000-10,000 pounds of copper weight, on a large airplane–replacing just 10% of that weight would save tens or hundreds of millions of dollars per plane over each plane’s useful life…a non-trivial impact.   The Company is pulling quotes even now for a couple million kilometers of data cable for an aviation application. If that goes well, there ought to be more business where that came from.