Those so called "weak forces" (as seen in the left column) make materials at nano-sizes behave quite differently than our macro dimension. Combine the increased effect of thermal vibration and the so-called “weak” forces in the dimension, self assembly becomes possible as the necessary parts are vibrated until the achieve the correct position, or the jostling of the parts breaks up the wrong positions and forces the parts to try again and again until the get it “right.” Add quantium mechanics and you have a very alien word to what we are accustomed to living in.
In my RET-NANO course at Drexel University I’m working with Patricia Reddington (Valenzuela) on research improving the characteristics of lithium ion batteries so that a “super” lithium battery is produced. The “super” would imply faster charge (and discharge rates), increased storage of energy and vastly improved cycling from the current 5,000 to ~100,000 times. Using nano technology changing not the efficient lithium canode, but the anode (graphite). Currently the cathode, graphite, is not a nano material, and degrades rather quickly by the stress imposed by in the charging & discharging process. Other issues a result of intercalation of the graphite with lithium ions during the charging process, is the slow charge (and discharge) rate imposed by the relatively long distances involved with moving ions into the 2 dimensional planes of the graphite anode.
Lithium-ion batteries are popular because they have a number of important advantages over competing technologies
They're generally much lighter than other types of rechargeable batteries of the same size. The electrodes of a lithium-ion battery are made of lightweight lithium and carbon. Lithium is also a highly reactive element, meaning that a lot of energy can be stored in its atomic bonds. This translates into a very high energy density for lithium-ion batteries.
Here is a way to get a perspective on the energy density. A typical lithium-ion battery can store 150 watt-hours of electricity in 1 kilogram of battery. A NiMH (nickel-metal hydride) battery pack can store perhaps 100 watt-hours per kilogram, although 60 to 70 watt-hours might be more typical. A lead-acid battery can store only 25 watt-hours per kilogram. Using lead-acid technology, it takes 6 kilograms to store the same amount of energy that a 1 kilogram lithium-ion battery can handle. That's a huge difference [Source: Everything2.com].
They hold their charge. A lithium-ion battery pack loses only about 5 percent of its charge per month, compared to a 20 percent loss per month for NiMH batteries.
They have no memory effect, which means that you do not have to completely discharge them before recharging, as with some other battery chemistries.
Lithium-ion batteries can handle hundreds of charge/discharge cycles.
That is not to say that lithium-ion batteries are flawless. They have a few disadvantages as well:
- They start degrading as soon as they leave the factory. They will only last two or three years from the date of manufacture whether you use them or not.
- They are extremely sensitive to high temperatures. Heat causes lithium-ion battery packs to degrade much faster than they normally would.
- If you completely discharge a lithium-ion battery, it is ruined.
- A lithium-ion battery pack must have an on-board computer to manage the battery. This makes them even more expensive than they already are.
- There is a small chance that, if a lithium-ion battery pack fails, it will burst into flames.[i]
The study of lithium diffusion in carbon materials is of great interest in both theoretical and practical aspects. During recent two decades this process was studied mainly in connection with the development of lithium ion batteries. Such batteries have negative electrodes based on graphite and other carbon materials.[iii]
In Dr. Yury Gogotsi.’s nanotecnology lab I am working with carbon nanotubes, filled with nano sized (~5NM) silicon particles using capillary action. Sonification is used to disperse the silicon particles into a solution. However, much like trying to put a camel through the eye of a needle, the origonal silicon particles must be reduced in size.
This requires hydrofluoric acid (HF) and nitric acid (HNO3) sometimes diluted with deionized water (to slow the reaction enough so that there is time to stop it as the 5 nm size is attained). The first samples of silicon particles we “nano-sized” with our solutions was 0.003 grams of Silicon, later we tried 0.006. HF will clear of a layer of SiO2. HNO3 then oxidizes the next layer of Si and HF the clears that layer of SIO2. One could compare this process to that of pealing and onion, layer bye layer. Again sonification is used to keep the silicon suspended in solution, while this size reduction proceeds.
When the correctly sized silicon particles are produced, photoluminescence is clearly seen under 254 nm ultra violet, the range in color can be from red to green. To slow desired reaction one the particle size is correct methanol is added. The particles are filtered out of solution using a ceramic filter holding a polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF) membrane filter, and washing of the silicon continued until the pH was neutral.
Since silicon is very reactive in air (with oxygen, forming SIO2), it needed to be stabilized. For this we used 1-octadecene and ultra-violet cabinets, leading to the photoinitiated hydrosilylation of the silicon; some of the 1-octadecene reacted with the 4 hydrogen atoms on the silicon (like carbon, silicon has a valence of four). Part of the octadecene molicllure removed the hydrogen atoms, the rest of the organic C-H chain, then bonded with the silicon. The excess 1-octadecene molecules were removed in a vacuum oven at 90 degrees celcius.
This product was then dispersed in toluene (which was not degassed and remained saturated with dissolved oxygen), and was capped to prevent evaporation, and also subjected to UV radiation. This time we wanted dissolved oxygen in the mixture, as the oxygen would then insert itself into between the silicon and the organic chain forming a secure double bond.
[i] How Stuff Works (accessed 7/21/2008) http://electronics.howstuffworks.com/lithium-ion-battery.htm