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.