Copper foam batteries — a new, cheaper-to-manufacture, faster-to-charge, and longer-lasting alternative to the batteries in common use today — may soon be headed to the commercial market as a result of the efforts of a new startup created by researchers at Colorado State University. The first prototype will be finished within the year, according to the researchers, with third-party testing following after that.
The researchers think that, given the limitations of current battery technology, there should be a market for the new copper foam batteries. “I think almost any application in technology you can think of is currently limited by the battery,” explains Amy Prieto, a chemist at Colorado State University and the leader of the new startup. “But two main issues limit the functionality of modern batteries — low energy density and low power density.”
To address these issues, and others, the researchers set out create an ‘ideal’ battery — making a list of the desired properties for each of the main battery components. They then set out to develop each component one at a time, while utilizing a copper foam structure that they purchased to serve as the current collector on the anode side of the battery.
“Foam is relatively easy to manufacture,” states Prieto. “It also has a 3D structure that increases the surface area of the electrodes and brings them closer together, which in turn increases the power density of the battery. In terms of energy density, the foam should also get more bang for the buck. The intricate 3D structures utilize the electrode material more efficiently than a flat surface.”
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On top of the copper foam, the researchers electroplate the anode, made from a material called copper antimonide. In a kind of bootstrap battery building, the anode then serves as an electrode for an electrochemical polymerization reaction that deposits the battery’s solid electrolyte. Finally, the team fills the space within the foam with a slurry that is dried to form the cathode. An aluminum mesh structure collects the current on the cathode side.
The electroplating equipment the team uses is inexpensive compared to the equipment needed to make other types of batteries. Prieto estimates the cost to manufacture the copper foam batteries will be about half that of conventional lithium-ion batteries made in China. The team also calculates that the foam battery should store the same amount of energy as conventional batteries in two-thirds the volume, charge five to ten times faster, and last up to ten times longer.
The new battery also possesses a number of significant advantages over conventional batteries with regard to safety and the environment — only water-based, non-toxic chemistry was used to manufacture the battery.
“This was my personal dream,” explains Prieto. “I didn’t think it would actually work, but it now looks like it will.”
The first applications that the researchers have in mind for the new batteries are electric bikes and portable electronics — two technologies which would benefit greatly from improved battery technology.
“We are less than one year from our first prototype, after which we’ll have third party testing,” says Prieto. “We’re aiming for low volume, early market beta testing shortly after that.”