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June 21st, 2010
A lithium-ion battery with a positive electrode made of carbon nanotubes delivers 10 times more power than a conventional battery and can store five times more energy than a conventional ultracapacitor. The nanotube battery technology, developed by researchers at MIT and licensed to an undisclosed battery company, could mean batteries that extend the range of electric vehicles and provide longer periods without recharging for electronic gadgets, including smartphones.
Researchers have been trying to make electrodes for lithium-ion batteries from carbon nanotubes because their high surface area and high conductivity promise to improve both energy and power density relative to conventional forms of carbon. But working with the material has proved challenging--most methods for assembling carbon nanotubes require a binding agent that brings down the conductivity of the electrode, and lead to the formation of clumps of the material, reducing the surface area. The electrodes made by the MIT group, however, have a very high surface area for storing and reacting with lithium. This high surface area is critical both to the high storage capacity of the electrodes, as well as their high power: because lithium is stored on the surface, it can move in and out of the electrode rapidly, enabling faster charging and discharging of the battery.
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