A Beijing startup called Wuhe is making electrode materials and batteries that could lower the cost of electric vehicles. The company uses nanostructures for battery materials that, like other recent nanostructures, let the materials deliver the large bursts of power needed for acceleration while maintaining energy storage capacity. But the Wuhe advance also makes the materials easier to work with than similar electrode materials, and as a result, it could cut battery-cell manufacturing costs by 10 percent.
Battery packs are the most expensive item on electric cars such as the Tesla Roadster and the Nissan Leaf. The cost either makes electric cars too expensive for most people, or it prompts automakers to use small battery packs, which limits the range of the cars.
To reduce battery costs and improve their performance, Wuhe founder Yu-Guo Guo, a professor of chemistry at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, has developed new, low-cost ways to improve the properties of lithium-iron phosphate, one of the leading lithium-ion battery electrode materials, and other promising electrode materials.
Ordinarily, the conductivity of lithium-iron phosphate is too low to be useful. The conductivity can be increased by milling it into extremely fine nanoscale powders—as companies such as A123 Systems do. Because the particles are small, electrons or lithium ions—both of which are necessary to create current—can move in and out of them quickly. But this powder is difficult to work with, which raises manufacturing costs.