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B.C. university, companies collaborating to develop next-generation battery

Researchers at the University of British Columbia Okanagan are developing a new lithium- and tellurium-based battery they hope will last longer, be smaller and safer.

Batteries. They’re an inescapable fact of life in today’s tech-driven society.

From cellphones to remote controls to cameras and a million other uses, batteries, in an ever-growing range of shapes and sizes, are everywhere.

Enter researchers at UBC Okanagan in Kelowna, who are collaborating with B.C. companies in researching a new battery; one that will be smaller and more powerful than anything currently available.

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An assistant professor at UBCO’s engineering department says the rapid expansion of portable electronics and the evolution of electric vehicles is driving a global demand for smaller but more powerful battery technology.

“Improvements are necessary thanks to many other emerging devices such as medical implants, wireless sensors and radio-frequency identification,” said Jian Liu.

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“Due to the limited space and high reliability requirements in these new devices, researchers are exploring technologies that possess high-energy density and more stable configurations.”

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The battery will be comprised of lithium and tellurium, an element most people have never likely heard of.

According to UBCO, one tellurium atom can store two lithium ions and two electrons, which makes it a potent material for storing and releasing electricity.

The university says tellurium, a rare metal byproduct of copper and lead-zinc smelting, has characteristics that will enable miniature, all solid-state lithium-tellurium battery devices with both high energy density and a high safety rating.

For more about tellurium, click here, here and here.

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The goal, which includes using raw materials from B.C. companies, is to create a tellurium-based cathode — a tiny device that will be used to make all-solid-state, lithium-tellurium batteries.

“Due to its high density, tellurium provides a much higher volumetric capacity than other cathode materials, such as sulfur and selenium,” said Liu.

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“With the advantages of high volumetric energy density and excellent safety, all-solid-state lithium-tellurium batteries have the potential to power high-end electronic applications where a smaller size, but higher energy output is required.”

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The work is being done in collaboration with Fenix Advanced Materials of Trail. The company says it is a clean tech company that specializes in the manufacturing of ultra-high purity metals.

The university says other B.C. companies involved include Teck Metals, Retriev Technologies, Eagle Graphite and Deer Horn Capital.

“We want to utilize and add value to the raw materials readily available in our region, especially from Fenix, Teck, Retriev, Eagle Graphite and Deer Horn,” said Fenix CEO Don Freschi.

“This can stimulate our rural economy and advance our technological capability through circular economy.”

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The university added the research was made possible through a Mitacs Accelerate Grant with partnership from Fenix Advanced Materials and Metal Tech Alley, and that additional collaborations with other research institutions, including the National Cheng Kung University in Taiwan and the Flemish Institute for Technological Research in Belgium, are being discussed.

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