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Open Access Nano Express

Low-cost carbon-silicon nanocomposite anodes for lithium ion batteries

Nacer Badi12*, Abhinay Reddy Erra1, Francisco C Robles Hernandez13, Anderson O Okonkwo3, Mkhitar Hobosyan4 and Karen S Martirosyan4

Author Affiliations

1 Center for Advanced Materials, University of Houston, Houston, TX 77204-5004, USA

2 Department of Physics, College of Science, University of Tabuk, P.O. Box 741, Tabuk 71491, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

3 College of Engineering Technology, University of Houston, Houston, TX 77204-4020, USA

4 Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Texas at Brownsville, Brownsville, TX 78520, USA

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Nanoscale Research Letters 2014, 9:360  doi:10.1186/1556-276X-9-360

Published: 18 July 2014

Abstract

The specific energy of the existing lithium ion battery cells is limited because intercalation electrodes made of activated carbon (AC) materials have limited lithium ion storage capacities. Carbon nanotubes, graphene, and carbon nanofibers are the most sought alternatives to replace AC materials but their synthesis cost makes them highly prohibitive. Silicon has recently emerged as a strong candidate to replace existing graphite anodes due to its inherently large specific capacity and low working potential. However, pure silicon electrodes have shown poor mechanical integrity due to the dramatic expansion of the material during battery operation. This results in high irreversible capacity and short cycle life. We report on the synthesis and use of carbon and hybrid carbon-silicon nanostructures made by a simplified thermo-mechanical milling process to produce low-cost high-energy lithium ion battery anodes. Our work is based on an abundant, cost-effective, and easy-to-launch source of carbon soot having amorphous nature in combination with scrap silicon with crystalline nature. The carbon soot is transformed in situ into graphene and graphitic carbon during mechanical milling leading to superior elastic properties. Micro-Raman mapping shows a well-dispersed microstructure for both carbon and silicon. The fabricated composites are used for battery anodes, and the results are compared with commercial anodes from MTI Corporation. The anodes are integrated in batteries and tested; the results are compared to those seen in commercial batteries. For quick laboratory assessment, all electrochemical cells were fabricated under available environment conditions and they were tested at room temperature. Initial electrochemical analysis results on specific capacity, efficiency, and cyclability in comparison to currently available AC counterpart are promising to advance cost-effective commercial lithium ion battery technology. The electrochemical performance observed for carbon soot material is very interesting given the fact that its production cost is away cheaper than activated carbon. The cost of activated carbon is about $15/kg whereas the cost to manufacture carbon soot as a by-product from large-scale milling of abundant graphite is about $1/kg. Additionally, here, we propose a method that is environmentally friendly with strong potential for industrialization.

Keywords:
Nanostructured carbon; Carbon-silicon nanocomposite; Anode materials; Lithium ion batteries; Electrochemical energy storage; Ball milling technique