The London Free Press: Need a phone charger? Maybe not too often, thanks to Western University, 3M researchers

Turns out London researchers have a solution and a London-based company is key to it. Researchers at Western University have discovered adding a thin layer of carbon to rechargeable batteries can boost their life by up to 50 per cent, and the physicist working at 3M Canada’s London facility developed that coating.

“The performance right now is still not satisfactory because maybe we need to charge the battery every day,” said Xia Li, a Mitacs postdoctoral fellow in Western’s faculty of engineering and lead researcher of a recent study.

“Our direction is to prolong the life of the battery — like, a dream is one week — and you only charge one time and keep it working for a long time. But we still have a long way to go.”

Li said researchers found that adding a thin layer of carbon coating to the aluminum foil that conducts the electric current in rechargeable batteries boosted their capacity up to 50 per cent.

“One of the reasons that batteries cannot work very well is that the aluminum foil, which is a very small part of the battery, cannot prevent the corrosion of the electrolyte,” Li said. “We developed with 3M Canada, a carbon coating to protect the aluminum foil from the corrosion by using this new material (a super-thin coating called graphene). It has improved the performance of this battery.”

The coating has been manufactured in London, but manufacturing will be winding down in the coming months as 3M shifts priorities for its plants.

Richard Chartrand, country laboratory and sustainability leader for 3M Canada, said the company’s scientists use dozens of “core technology platforms,” including coatings, adhesives, abrasives and sensors, to create products for customers.

“We are excited to see the researchers at Western University – and at research centres around the world – apply 3M technologies to put a brighter future within reach,” he said in an email.

Li is part of Western’s Advanced Materials for Clean Energy Group, which is led by Xueliang Sun, who worked with the Canadian Light Source at the University of Saskatchewan. The university provided synchroton – extremely bright x-rays – necessary to test the coating of the batteries and study reactions.

The Western researchers, who have been using synchroton light to look for ways to create advanced batteries for several years, recently published their latest findings in the journal ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces.

“The results made us very happy. Only a very small change to the aluminum foil saw an improvement in the battery performance,” Li said.

She said she doesn’t know when the technology will be on the market, but she thinks it could also be used to improve batteries in electric vehicles.

“We are very interested in using batteries to develop a new clean energy society,” Li said. “Oil is not a good long-term choice for humans and when we convert to green energy sources, we need clean secondary energy storage devices.”