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Batteries get a (nano)boost
Need to store electricity more efficiently? Put it behind bars. That's essentially the finding of a team of
Rice University researchers who have created hybrid carbon nanotube metal oxide arrays as electrode
material that may improve the performance of lithium-ion batteries.

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The team from Pulickel Ajayan's research group published a paper this week describing the proof-of-conceptresearch in which nanotubes are grown to look - and act - like the coaxial conducting lines used in cables. Thecoax tubes consist of a manganese oxide shell and a highly conductive nanotube core.
"It's a nice bit of nanoscale engineering," said Ajayan, Rice's Benjamin M. and Mary Greenwood AndersonProfessor in Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science.
"We've put in two materials - the nanotube, which is highly electrically conducting and can also absorblithium, and the manganese oxide, which has very high capacity but poor electrical conductivity," said AravaLeela Mohana Reddy, a Rice postdoc researcher. "But when you combine them, you get somethinginteresting." That would be the ability to hold a lot of juice and transmit it efficiently. The researchers expect the number of charge/discharge cycles such batteries can handle will be greatly enhanced, even with a larger capacity.
"Although the combination of these materials has been studied as a composite electrode by several researchgroups, it's the coaxial cable design of these materials that offers improved performance as electrodes forlithium batteries," said Ajayan.
"At this point, we're trying to engineer and modify the structures to get the best performance," said ManikothShaijumon, also a Rice postdoc. The microscopic nanotubes, only a few nanometers across, can be bundledinto any number of configurations. Future batteries may be thin and flexible. "And the whole idea can betransferred to a large scale as well. It is very manufacturable," Shaijumon said.
The hybrid nanocables grown in a Rice-developed process could also eliminate the need for binders, materialsused in current batteries that hold the elements together but hinder their conductivity.
The paper was written by Reddy, Shaijumon, doctoral student Sanketh Gowda and Ajayan. It appears in theonline version of the American Chemical Society's Nano Letters.
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