A Japanese startup unveils a long-lasting and safer battery made from carbon

24 Comments

A battery that lasts longer, is safer, charges faster and is less expensive than a standard lithium ion battery: That’s the powerful idea behind a new type of battery under development by a young Japanese startup called Power Japan Plus, or PJP, which came out of stealth on Tuesday. The year-old company uses carbon for both the anode and the cathode portion of the battery and hopes to start producing it later this year.

A battery is made up of an anode on one side and a cathode on the other, with an electrolyte in between. In a lithium ion battery, lithium ions travel from the anode to the cathode through the electrolyte, creating a chemical reaction that allows electrons to be harvested along the way.

Power Japan Plus

While lithium ion batteries are the dominant batteries these days for laptops, cell phones and early electric cars, they have some shortfalls. For example, the batteries degrade pretty quickly over time (which explains why your laptop battery dies every couple of years), and they can catch on fire under extreme impact. They’re also relatively expensive if you need a bunch of them to power an electric car, which is why Tesla’s cars are only really attainable by the wealthy right now.

An all-carbon battery

A battery that uses carbon for both the anode and the cathode could be safer than a lithium ion battery because it removes the highly flammable lithium oxide. While battery fires have been rare for electric car companies, Tesla, GM and others have all seen a handful of cars with punctured batteries catch on fire, and have faced PR hiccups as a result. Thermal runaway — intense, long-lasting fires caused by lithium oxide catching on fire — has long been the Achilles’ heel of lithium ion batteries.

A carbon battery also doesn’t degrade as quickly as a lithium ion battery over time. While a standard lithium ion battery with a two-year lifetime could have around 500 cycles of charging and discharging, Power Japan Plus’ dual-carbon battery could last for 3,000 cycles, the company’s executives told me in a phone call. They also say that because of the carbon chemistry, their battery can charge 20 times faster than a standard lithium ion battery.

Because the battery only uses carbon for its main active material, it could cost less than standard lithium ion batteries, though executives declined to name its price. Lithium ion batteries have continued to drop in price and Tesla says it’s reducing the cost by 30 percent with its planned battery factory.

Finally, an all-carbon battery could be more easily recycled at the end of life than a lithium ion battery because it doesn’t contain rare earth materials and metals. Activated carbon can come from a variety of low cost, easily-available sources.

Power Japan plusThe idea for a dual carbon battery has been under development by Japanese researchers since the 1970s. Around six or seven years ago, scientists at Kyushu University started working on nanotechnology and material breakthroughs — in the laboratory of applied chemistry professor Tatsumi Ishihara — that could raise the capacity (how much electric charge can be delivered at a certain voltage) of those early dual carbon batteries.

Now Power Japan Plus — co-founded by Japanese tech entrepreneurs Dou Kani (the CEO and president) and Hiroaki Nishina (the COO) — is looking to commercialize the research done at Kyushu. While neither Kani or Nishina has a long background with battery chemistry (they hail from the telecom and software sectors), they’ve brought on Japanese battery cathode expert Kaname Takeya, who developed the cathode tech used today in the Toyota Prius and the Tesla Model S.

Takeya splits his time between San Francisco and Japan and is the company’s CTO and CEO of its U.S. operations. He just finished a project for Argonne National Labs, and previously also worked on some battery startups including Quallion and EnerDel.

Other companies are looking at ways to engineer carbon to make batteries better. EnerG2 is one of those startups, and the company has developed carbon materials for a variety of battery applications. Because Power Japan Plus’ innovation is in the development of the carbon material, the company is also looking into a side business of selling its carbon to third parties.

Early stage

While the tech has been under development for several years, the founders incorporated just a year ago, and now employ only eight people. To date they’ve been bootstrapping the company, but are hoping to raise funding to help them begin moving into early production later this year.

Funding, particularly in Silicon Valley, could prove to be difficult for an early stage battery manufacturer, given all of the battery startups that have struggled over the years. It’s a difficult market because scaling up battery production can take a long time and, potentially, a lot of money. But big corporations that are interested in ultimately owning or licensing advanced battery tech might still be interested in providing early funding.

Power Japan Plus says it is less capital-intensive than other battery companies because its battery can be manufactured on existing battery production lines. Because the batteries don’t use rare materials and have only one active material, execs say the supply chain is extremely simple, which also reduces costs. Additionally, executives told me that while they want to do some early pilot line production themselves, they know they need a large manufacturing partner if they want to scale up production to offer batteries to electric cars.

Power Japan Plus intends to first launch batteries for the medical device and satellite industries, which are hyper-focused on safety. Later down the road, they could try to tackle electric cars. An electric car with a battery pack of dual-carbon batteries could charge much faster and last much longer on the road, giving it a higher resale value. Currently the team is supplying batteries for a Go-Cart in a transportation proof-of-concept partnership.

In the immediate future, electric cars — at least from dominant players Tesla and Nissan — are betting on lithium ion chemistry for batteries. But farther down the line, other types of chemistries will need to be investigated to provide power for the next generation of electric cars.

24 Comments

Christo

Agreed Murray, but please guys do not get stuck on one fond little solution, Lithium. What you need is AVAILABLE energy density WHEN you need it. If these carbon batteries charge faster, you can take breaks a little more often – as recommended by all experts on driving safety. Have a juice and off again. Then again, why would you tolerate a very expensive technology that is very difficult to end off properly and safely? Is the most expensive always the best?

The impatience of mankind is astonishing. Then again, big oil is the modern day pariah, what? The dying polar bears gave George Bush a nice little fright, didn’t they? Refer the medical problem of totally resistant bacterial strains like gonorrhea and the over prescription of anti-biotics. We can push the envelope, but it seems it is busy tearing.

Ray

Tesla needs to take this company seriously vs Panasonic, could be a better option for new Gigafactory. Could be a Model S with more than 300 miles vs 265 miles.

algarvebest

Any progress in energy storage is a plus. I am no expert but believe that a critical element in energy generation is storage. Where I live in southern Portugal with 3000 hours of sunshine a year we can, for example, harvest a great deal of solar energy. but storage for night use is a problem. Reduction of battery/storage solution size and cost is fundamental to making solar systems cost effective.

jaime54

try with Samsung.They may be interested in the technology

hal

thank you Katie for being the first journalist to understand that this is still a lithium ion battery with lithium ions moving from anode to cathode, and that what is really different about this battery is that both nodes are carbon. Half of the articles I’ve found on this say that the battery is powered by magic cotton and carbon. :)

As a fan of electric cars, I collect ‘battery breakthough’ articles like this one on my extremely boring blog. If you need help sleeping, google halsbatteryblog sometime.

Mau Pham

Not all forms of carbon is cheap.

The ultimate price depends on how carbon is processed.

Diamond (pure crystallized carbon) costs more than gold.

arbitrary tech articles

3000 cycles is not that much of an improvement for most modern mixed oxide systems. All the current lithium ion players, except for really old 18650 tech used in computers run 2500 cycles and greater.
Seems like smoke an mirrors. “We are much better than ancient lithium technologies!”

dave

This sounds like a capacitor not a battery. What are they using for a electrolyte? Two conductors with an insulator between is a capacitor. Lets be clear not vague.

Ben

Is there any difference between a “carbon battery” and a “supercapacity” ? Because it has been existing for quite a while and works are on progress worldwhile.

Evan

Cotton aerogel. Anything can be aerogel. There was some talk of electron mitigation via quinones. Maybe these guys have finally hit the nail on the head. Hope it’s not as fragile as most aerogels. I’ll take a couple dozen to electrify the old MGB. :-)

Jimison Schickle

Ray have you ever heard of perpetual motion, and why it doesn’t work?

Ray Elicerio

Another solution; in-out power generating motors. Like jet engine. It harness stationary air and speed release as afterburner. It will get small amount of energy from the battery to run, then deliver double amount of energy to charge the battery where it get its power from. So, basically, it is a roundabout motor-generator set. It can be done.

Murray Judy

Yet another perpetual motion device. And how will it deal with that pesky 2nd Law of Thermodynamics problem?

Ray Elicerio

I strongly believed it is even possible to invent/create a selfcharging battery. This can be obtained from trickle charging either from solar cell surface paint or turbine fan imbedded in front of car’s grill.

sranger

First of all Li batteries are already well into the 2000-3000 life time charge cycles.

Second, Carbon makes up MOST of what is in a Lithium battery. The lithium and other metals are a small % of the battery.

Third, Li batteries can already charge in the 135KW power range and seem to be able to put on up to 400Kw on demand. What do these offer in addition? I ask this because Carbon batteries have not been a great power dense battery (limited amps that it can supply).

To be honest, all of this seems a little far fetched based on the incorrect (or out of date) information in the article

Argenti Lupum

For one single company to come up with this concept in such early stages it shows promise. Do not expect it to completely replace Li batteries from the get-go.

Albert Hartman

No mention in article so let me ask it: how does the energy density compare to a traditional Li-ion cell?

Mark

It’s as good as many, but appears slightly under the very best chemistries.

john

Koch says can we make a carbon battery out of my coal

Fernsemer

I’m thinking that if these batteries are good enough and cheap enough to be used in electric cars ,,, then big oil will buy up the patents and bury these batteries and we’ll never hear or see anything of them again. We’ll see!

Brett

Safer, faster charging and doesn’t degrade as quickly. Doesn’t have increased energy density, but three out of four ain’t bad. Hope they commercialize.

Turtlecrk

Lithium oxide is not flammable! Metallic lithium is extremely reactive but it is not used in lithium-ion batteries.

When batteries are crushed/punctured, it can cause a short circuit within the battery, which creates extreme heat. This can happen with any battery but is a bigger problem for Li-ion because of their higher energy density.

Here’s a link with more info: http://computer.howstuffworks.com/dell-battery-fire.htm

robcaboose

Love it! I’m all about new forms of energy and this sounds like a highly beneficial and environment friendly alternative to our current lithium-ion batteries! Good article

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