Fast Company

Batteries That Go Ten Times Longer

Lithium-ion batteries are fast becoming the battery of choice for plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles. But they're far from perfect: they don't keep a charge for long (the Nissan Leaf's battery will require a recharge every 100 miles), and they degrade over time.

Enter Contour Energy Systems, a self-described portable power company that this week acquired carbon nanotube li-ion battery technology from MIT. According to Contour, the technology allows li-ion batteries to produce up to a tenfold increase in power--effectively eliminating all concerns about range anxiety.

Contour explains the technology:

Carbon nanotubes--sheets of pure carbon atoms rolled up into tiny tubes--"self assemble" into a tightly bound structure that is porous at the nanometer scale (billionths of a meter). "These carbon nanotubes contain numerous functional groups on their surfaces that can store a large number of lithium ions per unit mass,” says Professor Shao-Horn of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science and Engineering at MIT.

As a result, Contour's batteries can produce high power outputs in short bursts as well as low power outputs over longer periods of time. The batteries can deliver 10 times more energy than traditional li-ion batteries, and they don't degrade over time--after 1,000 charge cycles, Contour found no discernible change in performance.

The battery technology won't be found in the upcoming generation of EV's, however. Carbon nanotubes aren't yet produced in large enough quantities for mass production of nanotube-containing li-ion batteries. But that may change once Contour is ready to commercialize its battery -- and once enough of us start needing a charge every 100 miles.

Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.

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5 Comments

  • ScienceGuy

    Mr. Smith, there is no reason for you to insult Mr. Waterhouse, especially when he seems to be a lot more knowledgeable than you.

    I agree with Lorrie. Sure in the lab you can claim all you want but can you make a product when you don't have enough raw material? I wouldn't spend a pence on Contour with their investors' track record. Their mgm't team is a joke, especially that LC dude. Notice that for their consumable market, they're going after the 3D glasses market (selling batteries for these glasses). This is when analysts just came out and said 3D TV is a bust. What a bunch of fools.

  • Thomas Smith

    Ok, why is it that people with little knowledge are usually the first to express their thoughts? Carbon nanotube coating of cathodes and anodes is a known what to improve both power and energy density (as well as possible extension of lifespans) for rechargeable batteries.. To say that doing this violates anything in physics shows a fairly narrow-minded, uninformed perspective. What is generally available knowledge about battery technology is quickly outdated. Just as in 1997, if you had said that computers would be processing at the Megaflop level in 3 years, you would have been laughed at. Battery technology as well as medical technology are the ground-breaking fields of now, just like the computer has been for the last 2 decades. To flippantly say "That isn't possible." shows a real lack of vision.

    I am by far not an expert in this field, but as a geek, I have been researching it for almost a year now. And I have found that 10 fold power and density increases are FAR from unreasonable with this technology (just with what we know now).

    If someone is going to try to naysay a technology, it is important that they show relevant references as to why, otherwise it just sounds like another person saying it can't be done while standing in the way of someone actually doing it.

  • Lorrie

    Here we go again! First Contour says they have a battery, based on their own IP from Caltech, that is 8x better than the competition. Now they acquired someone else's IP to get 10x improvement (probably because they got caught lying about the 8x). What's the truth? Also, they can't fabricate enough of their own secret sauce to make batteries larger than coin cells and now they're relying on carbon nanotubes where supply is even more limited. Get real guys. Who's one their board? Don't these people know anything about business? If you don't have enough raw material, how can you make a product? Just to show you that these guys don't want to build a real company. They just want to create enough hype to dump it on another sucker!

  • Robert Waterhouse

    The author of this article makes an oft-repeated error confusing power, the rate at which energy used, with the energy itself. Range in an EV is largely a function of the amount of energy stored in a vehicle's battery. Increasing the power capability of the battery does not directly increase the range, only the speed at which you can get there. Furthermore, to say that the this technology can deliver "ten times more energy than traditional lithium-ion batteries," is just outrageous. To do this in a single charge/discharge cycle would violate all that we know about the physics and chemistry of the battery. It may be true over the life of the battery, if the life of the battery is ten times that of a standard state-of-the-art lithium-ion battery, but no such claim is made. Thomas Edison once stated that when a person works on a battery technology "it brings out his latent capacity for lying." How true.