Sustainable Business News (SBIZ)
c/o Squall Inc.
P.O. Box 1484, Stn. B
Ottawa, Ontario, K1P 5P6
Canada: 1-855-569-6300

Silicon-based batteries inch to record capacity, HPQ says

Tests find improved energy storage for batteries with added silicon

A silicon-based anode made by Novacium showed improved energy capacity in tests, which may help in the transition to a cleaner economy. (Courtesy HPQ Silicon Inc.)

Longer-lasting rechargeable batteries are possible, according to anode tests of silicon-based industrial batteries made by the French affiliate of Montreal-based HPQ Silicon Inc.

Results announced in mid-May found a 30 per cent improvement in average capacity between batteries using a small amount of silicon-based material and batteries made entirely of graphite.

The tests on 18650 batteries, a common rechargeable battery slightly bigger than an AA, open the door for better batteries in the future, according to HPQ and Novacium SAS president and CEO Bernard Tourillon.

When combined with the low-carbon silicon made by HPQ, batteries can be made with more capacity and less environmental impact, he added.

“You add our material to your graphite and you will improve the efficiency of your batteries . . . You can make a better battery.”

Testing a better battery

Novacium conducts research and development on materials with applications for clean energy. It is partially owned by HPQ and led by three engineers with decades of combined experience working with silicon, Tourillon said.

HPQ develops technology to manufacture greener silicon materials with the goal of combining the advances in battery capacity with its sustainably made silicon.

HPQ says silicon batteries are reaching their limit in energy storage, and a small amount of added silicon can address this. Silicon is an energy conductor unlike graphite, and it can serve as a superior battery anode without substantially changing the chemical composition, Tourillon said.

The trial used silicon that is very similar to the material HPQ makes, he said, meaning it did not use silicon made by the company.

By benchmarking the battery to 18650 graphite batteries, it shows the technology has matured to commercial scale and can be easily referenced, Tourillon said.

The results of the test

While he would not disclose where and when the tests were carried out, HPQ and Novacium jointly announced the results that indicated improved battery capacity. Incremental progress on batteries rather than a moonshot was the intent of the trials, Tourillon explained.

Compared to a 100 per cent graphite commercial battery that typically holds approximately 2,780 milliampere-hours (mAh), the batteries made of a second generation of silicon-based material reached 3,610 mAh. Additionally, the second-generation material beat the first generation by 14 per cent.

“We understand what is required to produce a silicon-based anode material that will improve the performance of a battery,” Tourillon said. The tests showed lighter batteries with more energy storage are possible.

As the world needs more batteries to power a clean economy – think EVs and battery energy storage systems – adding silicon may be one solution to improve the performance. Tourillon brought up the example of "charging anxiety" that deters some people from purchasing an EV. Improved performance may help overcome this mental block.

HPQ's efforts for greener silicon

Its subsidiary is behind the Fumed Silica Reactor, which cuts energy consumption by a minimum of 86 per cent against standard industry practices, and is expected to slash carbon emissions by 50 per cent to 60 per cent. 

A second technology developed by the company is the Quartz Reduction Reactor, which uses a plasma arc to turn quartz into silicon applicable for solar panels, electronics and batteries.

Tourillon said silicon manufacturing is a carbon-intensive process, generating six kilograms to nine kilograms of carbon dioxide per kilogram of silicon. The ubiquity of silicon in electronics means there is a heavy climate impact, he noted.

HPQ’s technology can help decarbonize industries that use silicon, ranging from batteries, electric vehicles (EVs) and manufacturing.

After demonstrating the potential of the second-generation silicon, HPQ plans to work on its first demonstration facility that will manufacture materials to start offtake agreements with graphite companies or gigafactories, Tourillon said.

While the silicon-based 18650 batteries still lag the record-breaker — a lithium-ion version made by U.S. company Enpower Greentech Inc. that has 4,095 mAh capacity — Tourillon is confident the barrier can be broken.

“We believe we can reach it, it’s just that you have to figure out what’s done out there. If we can reach or beat the world record still using what we call our non-optimized material, then we’ve demonstrated we’ve caught up to the leaders of the industry.”

Industry Events