The Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands (ECN) has developed a new technology that increases the storage capacity of rechargeable batteries by 50 per cent.

With this technology, batteries in smartphones, laptops and other electronic devices will last longer, the costs of sustainable energy storage will decrease and the range of electric vehicles (EVs) can be increased.

To commercialise the new technology and attract investors, entrepreneurs Christian Rood and Gabriel de Scheemaker founded LeydenJar Technologies BV, an entity named after the Leyden Jar of 1746, the precursor of the battery.

Having obtained funding for the first year, the start-up company is already having discussions with large international battery manufacturers and wants to open a demonstration plant in 2018.

The new technology replaces the traditional graphite anode with a pure silicon anode, increasing the storage capacity of this component of the lithium-ion battery by a factor of 10 and the storage capacity of the whole battery up to 50 per cent.

The problem with silicon, however, is that it expands when the battery is charged and becomes three times larger, which can make silicon layers brittle and cause the battery material to fall apart.
ECN applies the silicon in columns onto copper foil using a plasma-based nanotechnology, creating enough space for expansion and allowing the battery to remain stable.

The layer eventually needs to be 10 microns thick for commercial application, which is 10 times thinner than a sheet of paper.

ECN researcher, Wim Soppe, discovered the material 12 years ago when he was developing thin-film solar cells.

“The material was unsuitable for solar cells, but we found the technology is extremely promising for lithium-ion batteries. A nice example of how a failure can turn into a success.”

Sjoerd Wittkampf, Technology Transfer Manager at ECN, said a lot of effort was put into research worldwide to improve lithium-ion batteries, and a breakthrough was claimed every few weeks.

“These discoveries usually concern materials that can only be produced in a laboratory environment on a very small scale.

“What makes the invention of ECN so promising is that the technology for mass production of this material is already within reach due to its similarity to an existing production process for solar cells.

“We believe this gives us a unique advantage. Through the founding of LeydenJar Technologies, we will transfer this technology to the market and create a fit between the battery industry and venture capital investors.”