Soot and sh­room power

Can­dle soot to drive next-gen elec­tric cars?

The Witness - Wheels - - MOTORING -

Ger­man com­pany Bosch pre­dicts the world will see 15% of all new ve­hi­cles hav­ing an elec­tri­cal pow­er­train by 2025 and is in­vest­ing €400 mil­lion a year in elec­tro­mo­bil­ity.

Their quest is to cre­ate a bat­tery that will give 50 kilo­watt hours and weigh about 190 kg. To put this in per­spec­tive, the av­er­age lead bat­tery in to­day’s cars weighs about 20 kg and makes only 0,5 kilo­watt hours.

A re­cent study shows car­bon from burn­ing a can­dle could be all it takes to make an in­ex­pen­sive but pow­er­ful elec­tric car bat­tery, ac­cord­ing to new re­search pub­lished in Elec­trochim­ica Acta.

The re­search re­veals that can­dle soot could be used to power the kind of lithium ion bat­tery used in plug-in elec­tric cars.

The au­thors of the study, from the In­dian In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy (IIT) in Hy­der­abad, In­dia, say their dis­cov­ery opens up the pos­si­bil­i­ties to use car­bon in more pow­er­ful bat­ter­ies, driv­ing down the costs of portable power.

Lithium ion bat­ter­ies power many de­vices, from smart­phones and dig­i­tal cam­eras all the way up to cars and even air­craft.

The bat­ter­ies work by hav­ing two elec­tri­cally charged ma­te­ri­als sus­pended in a liq­uid to pro­duce a cur­rent. Car­bon is used as one of those ma­te­ri­als in smaller bat­ter­ies, but for big­ger, more pow­er­ful bat­ter­ies — such as those used in elec­tric cars — car­bon is not suit­able be­cause of its struc­ture, which can­not pro­duce the re­quired cur­rent den­sity.

In the new study, Dr Chan­dra Sharma and Dr Manohar Kakunuri found that be­cause of the shape and con­fig­u­ra­tion of the tiny car­bon nanopar­ti­cles, the car­bon in can­dle soot is suit­able for use in big­ger bat­ter­ies. What’s more, be­cause the soot could be pro­duced quickly and eas­ily, it is a scal­able ap­proach to mak­ing bat­ter­ies.

“If you put a wa­ter droplet on can­dle soot it rolls off — that’s an ob­ser­va­tion that’s been made in the last few years. The ma­te­rial can­dle soot is made of, car­bon, also has elec­tric po­ten­tial. So why not use it as an elec­trode?” asked Sharma, author of the study. “We looked into it and saw it also shows some ex­cep­tional elec­tro­chem­i­cal prop­er­ties, so we de­cided to test it fur­ther.”

When a can­dle burns, it gives off clouds of black soot made of car­bon.

The re­searchers looked at the soot col­lected from the tip of a can­dle flame and from the mid­dle of the flame and com­pared the size, shape and struc­ture of the car­bon.

The re­sults showed that the burn­ing process forms nanopar­ti­cles of car­bon that are 30 to 40 nanome­tres across and are joined to­gether in an in­ter­con­nected net­work. They also found that the soot re­cov­ered from the tip of a can­dle flame, which burns at 1 400° C, has fewer im­pu­ri­ties like wax, mak­ing it per­form bet­ter as an elec­tri­cal con­duc­tor.

Their analy­ses show the shape and size of the car­bon nanopar­ti­cles from soot, and the way they are joined to­gether, makes soot an ef­fec­tive con­duct­ing ma­te­rial, with a high cyclic charge-dis­charge (CCD).

The re­searchers says the tech­nol­ogy is ef­fi­cient and cost-ef­fec­tive. It is also scal­able. They now plan to de­velop a can­dle soot bat­tery to test the tech­nol­ogy fur­ther. They are also plan­ning to test hy­brid ma­te­ri­als that con­tain can­dle soot to see if they can make it an even bet­ter ma­te­rial for bat­ter­ies. — Wheels Reporter.

PHOTO: DISTRICTMONTREAL.COM

Artist Steve Spazuk uses fu­mage, a tech­nique de­vel­oped in the thir­ties to cre­ate images us­ing soot from a can­dle or kerosene lamp. Now the soot can make bet­ter lithium bat­ter­ies.

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