Lithium ion batteries are receiving considerable attention in applications, ranging from portable electronics to electric vehicles, due to their superior energy density over other rechargeable battery technologies. However, the societal demands for lighter, thinner, and higher capacity lithium ion batteries necessitate ongoing research for novel materials with improved properties over that of state-of-the-art. Such an effort requires a concerted development of both electrodes and electrolyte to improve battery capacity, cycle life, and charge–discharge rates while maintaining the highest degree of safety available. Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are a candidate material for use in lithium ion batteries due to their unique set of electrochemical and mechanical properties. The incorporation of CNTs as a conductive additive at a lower weight loading than conventional carbons, like carbon black and graphite, presents a more effective strategy to establish an electrical percolation network. In addition, CNTs have the capability to be assembled into free-standing electrodes (absent of any binder or current collector) as an active lithium ion storage material or as a physical support for ultra high capacity anode materials like silicon or germanium. The measured reversible lithium ion capacities for CNT-based anodes can exceed 1000 mAh g−1 depending on experimental factors, which is a 3× improvement over conventional graphite anodes. The major advantage from utilizing free-standing CNT anodes is the removal of the copper current collectors which can translate into an increase in specific energy density by more than 50% for the overall battery design. However, a developmental effort needs to overcome current research challenges including the first cycle charge loss and paper crystallinity for free-standing CNT electrodes. Efforts to utilize pre-lithiation methods and modification of the single wall carbon nanotube bundling are expected to increase the energy density of future CNT batteries. Other progress may be achieved using open-ended structures and enriched chiral fractions of semiconducting or metallic chiralities that are potentially able to improve capacity and electrical transport in CNT-based lithium ion batteries.
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