Imperial spin-out makes Li-ion battery breakthrough

by Search Gate staff. Published Tue 01 Dec 2009 09:11
Nexeon uses silicon to develop battery of future

Nexeon, a company formed following a breakthrough discovery made at Imperial College London, has revealed its plans to commercialise lithium-ion battery technology, a development which will lead to batteries with significantly higher energy density and longer lifetime between charges.

Longer operating times and brighter screens for laptops and smart phones, and cordless tools with more power on tap are just some of the benefits expected.

The Nexeon technology is based on the use of silicon anodes instead of the carbon-based anodes used today, and this allows greater charge to be stored within the battery.

Silicon provides far higher performance as an anode material, offering charge densities around ten times that of carbon.

Lithium-ion batteries have come to dominate the rechargeable batteries market as a result of their higher performance for a given cell size and weight, their low self-discharge rate and the absence of a ‘memory effect’.

Silicon has been known to offer potential as a superior anode material, but until now, silicon has suffered from physical instability when repeatedly charged and discharged. Nexeon’s approach solves this problem by changing the physical form (‘morphology’) of the silicon, allowing it to realise its full potential as a battery anode.

Nexeon may be a new name to many people, but in fact has operated for the last four years in ‘stealth mode’ as it developed the technology and built its patent portfolio.

Nexeon was founded as a spin-out from Imperial Innovations, and the technology is based on work done by Professor Mino Green, Emeritus Professor at the Department of Electrical Engineering at Imperial College, London.

Nexeon has successfully completed several rounds of funding, including the raising of £10 million earlier this year, a round which saw Imperial Innovations make one of its largest investments to date.

Nexeon has established research and development facilities and a pilot plant at the Science Centre at Culham, Oxfordshire, capable of producing kilograms of material a day for evaluation. Here, it can simulate accurately the performance of its materials in battery manufacturing processes that closely mirror those in commercial production plants. As a result, Nexeon has a good understanding of the costs of production and can support battery manufacturers in rapidly adopting the technology through a ‘drop in’ approach.

Many potential applications for Nexeon’s technology exist, from consumer electronic products to medical devices and power tools. From an environmental viewpoint, increased use of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries is preferred over their single-use equivalents.

One of the highest profile applications has to be electric vehicles, where a high capacity and power to weight ratio is critical. Batteries made using Nexeon’s silicon anode material would deliver these benefits and allow dramatic increases in vehicle range between charges.

Nexeon is already in discussion with a number of major corporations in the global battery industry, and its materials are currently under evaluation. Nexeon’s plans are to license the technology and possibly to supply the specialised materials. Since silicon is a higher efficiency material than carbon in this context, smaller amounts are required and costs could be lowered.

“Nexeon is a pioneering company whose innovative technology could transform the global battery industry with significant benefits for the environment”, said Russ Cummings, Chief Investment Officer at Imperial Innovations. “It is exactly the kind of company Imperial Innovations is delighted to support, with its experienced management team and strong financial backing that will help it achieve significant commercial success.”

Dr Scott Brown, who was appointed CEO of Nexeon earlier this year, is also bullish: “We are delighted to be able to reveal the progress that Nexeon has made over the last few years. The commercial discussions already underway with key players in the industry position us well for the future”.

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