Most developed countries plan to phase out traditional carbon fuel-powered vehicles for electric vehicles (“EVs”) over the next decade or two. As EVs run on clean, renewable energy, they produce zero emissions, which is in line with the governments’ long term plans to reduce carbon emissions. However, despite being relatively cheaper to fuel (charge) and maintain than traditional vehicles, most of the EVs on the market are way too expensive for the average consumer.
So, even if they wish to switch over to clean energy, a large chunk of the population simply cannot afford it. To make them more affordable, authorities have created programs to subsidize EVs, but Koffi Pierre Yao is going an entirely different way. An assistant professor of mechanical engineering and an alumnus of the University of Delaware, Yao has received a $1 million grant to engineer a next-gen lithium-ion battery that could make electric vehicles a lot more affordable than they are now.
The $1 million grant was from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Vehicle Technologies Research Program and it will enable Yao and his team to develop a battery that will be able to power electric devices for longer and at a much-reduced cost, a move that could very well revolutionize the energy industry. “If we can make this happen, it will be a paradigm shift. We’ll be taking a game-changing step.”
Traditional lithium-ion batteries, which are used to power EVs, work by converting chemical reactions into electrical energy. Two electrodes built into the battery act as energy carriers and enable this process, a cathode and an anode. The anode is usually made of graphite, and Yao and his team are attempting to make silicon anodes. Since silicon can store and deliver as much as 10 times the energy, this could result in a battery that lasts much longer than current batteries can.
Cell phones will last much longer and electric vehicles would be able to travel even three times the distance on a single charge if these batteries see the light of day. However, Yao and his team have one hurdle to cross: as it stores and releases energy, silicon grows in volume. Compared to a graphite anode which expands by 10%, a silicon anode expands by up to 350%, and this degrades the battery. According to Yao, he can solve the problem if he can create a film that would coat the silicon anode and allow it to expand while preventing degradation. “In layman’s terms, this film will be plastic. It will be elastomeric, meaning it will stretch like rubber.”
“This is a really exciting opportunity,” says Rownak Jahan Mou, a graduate student who is part of Yao’s team. “If we are successful with the silicon coating, this could open the door for still other materials to use, and even more battery options.”
This kind of next-generation thinking is the type of innovation that aligns with companies like Net Element (NASDAQ: NETE).
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