Carbon black, an inert material produced by the incomplete combustion of certain petrol products, is widely used in rubber, plastics, textiles, coatings, printing inks, tires, and other diverse applications. It ranks among the top 50 industrial chemicals manufactured across the globe, based on annual tonnage.
The use of carbon black in lithium-ion batteries is a specialty application field that hasn’t garnered much recognition in the past few years. The handy, helpful, small, and rechargable lithium-ion power packs that allow us the convenience of electricity in a portable form and help run with aplomb a number of systems such as our smartphones, laptops, tablet computers, and electric vehicles, utilize carbon black in order to function. The current industry standards for lithium-ion batteries promote a low carbon model and have nearly 5% carbon black of the total material of the battery by weight.
Such precise amount of the substance in the composition of a lithium-ion battery was never before considered crucial to the battery’s overall performance. However, a new research study is all set to confound the conventional knowledge regarding the design of lithium-ion batteries and the proportion of carbon black used in them.
The research study, undertaken by a 10-member research team worked on explaining how carbon black, considered secondary in importance till now, is actually critical to the performance of a li-ion battery and how its varying proportions in a battery design can affect the battery performance.
Importance of Carbon Black in Lithium-ion Batteries Revisited
Lithium-ion batteries contain cathode particles that allow the flow of electrons, an action that helps the battery to charge. The cathode particles used in a typically li-ion battery are composed of lithium cobalt oxide or lithium iron phosphate, mixed with a small amount of carbon black.
The research, however, depicts that the current low proportion of carbon black in the design of a typical li-ion battery is not enough for fast and efficient charging or discharging of these batteries. The research results state that the rate at which cathode particles charge ultimately depends on how well they are connected to carbon black particles.
The researchers have found that increasing the percentage of carbon black in li-ion batteries – to as high as 20% in some cases – led to the charging of cathode particles more quickly owing to the more uniform carbon connectivity with high ratio of carbon black in the design.
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Consequence of Increasing Carbon Black Ratio in Batteries
The researchers also noted that there was a tradeoff in increasing the ratio of carbon black to such high proportions. Increase in the percentage of carbon black in the battery design leads to a reduction in the amount of cathode particles available for holding a charge. So, even if a battery, with higher proportion of carbon black, will charge faster, it will also have lesser energy than li-ion batteries of conventional design.
Maybe the scientific field hasn’t yet been able to find the optimum balance and the material best compatible with higher proportion of carbon black. Nevertheless, the research is no less path-breaking.
The discovery sheds light on the innumerous possibilities in which the overall design of a conventional li-ion battery can be modified by merely changing the content of carbon black to make it capable of holding more power, having greater capacity, and getting charged faster.
While it is a bit early to assume anything huge from this discovery, it surely points the way toward increased possibilities of developing such optimized battery designs in practice. With the rate at which technological developments are happening these days, it would be, in fact, not very presumptuous to say that with the use of this finding, li-ion batteries of future will be able to survive for many days in a row, like the ones for simple ‘call- and text-only phones’ of the past years did.
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