The current model of the Volt uses lithium-ion batteries made with lithium-manganese spinel cathodes ("spinel" refers to the three-dimensional arrangement of atoms in the material). The Argonne patents that GM has licensed cover a cathode material that consists of lithium, nickel, manganese, and cobalt. The new material has such high energy density because it can operate at a higher voltage than current electrode materials and also store more lithium ions.
"This is probably the most capable cathode material that we have seen out there, and that's the reason that we think it's really critical that we get started working on this material now, so that we can get it on the road," Lauckner says. "It's going to take some years to further develop it and validate it. The idea is we want to get this on the road for the next generation of battery packs that come out."
Several other companies are working with Argonne's technology, including one, Envia, that is working with Argonne to combine advanced nickel-manganese-cobalt electrode materials with advanced silicon anode materials. This project, which is being funded by the Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy, aims to produce batteries that store three times as much energy as today's lithium-ion car batteries.
Envia Systems: High Energy Density Lithium Batteries
Envia Systems is using ARPA-E funding to develop lithium-ion batteries with the highest energy density in the world (over 400 Wh/kg vs ~150 Wh/kg current state of the art). This project will entail the development of advanced high capacity silicon-carbon nano-composite anodes and complementary high capacity cathodes. In addition, Envia Systems will develop processes to scale the production of both anode and cathode materials to high volumes. Scaling of the materials will involve reproducibility of materials not only with high performance but also with high quality and consistency.
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