Nanotecture was developing small and large supercabatteries based on nickel. Its CEO now writes, under the company name Stratophase, "By a combination of funding and timing we have scaled back the Nanotecture operation and are looking to license the technology on to a 3rd party".
Rush to lithium
IDTechEx believes that the market action now lies with supercabatteries based on lithium-ion technology and commonly referred to as lithium capacitors because lithium-ion capacitors now have the largest market value, some pure supercapacitors are now matching or exceeding the energy density of nickel batteries and the primary supercabattery market need is for something between the properties of a lithium-ion battery and a supercapacitor. Even that is not guaranteed success because there is such rapid progress with graphene and carbon nanotube supercapacitors with these properties and better.
An example of the new focus on "lithium capacitor" supercabatteries rather than lead or nickel version is a recent joint venture. In November 2011, FDK and Asahi Kasei concluded a basic agreement to establish a joint-venture company for the combined operation of a lithium ion capacitor (LIC ie lithium-ion supercabattery) business.
The LIC is a next-generation energy storage device which allows rapid charging and discharging at high current. It features higher cell capacity than conventional electric double-layer capacitors (EDLCs) and longer life than lithium-ion batteries (LIBs). A large market for LICs is forecasted to develop beginning in 2015, as they contribute to energy conservation through more efficient use of electric power.
Identifying the LIC as a growth product, FDK has been a pioneer in its development and established a mass production system which enables integrated manufacture from LIC cells through complete modules. Asahi Kasei advanced work on the LIC based on its established technology for LIB materials, and successfully developed a high-performance LIC with low internal resistance which is ready for commercialization.
In recognition of the advantage of combining FDK's cell and module technology and production technology with Asahi Kasei's unique basic cell technology, the two parties concluded the basic agreement for the establishment of a joint LIC business which will further strengthen R&D and supply capabilities.
Nanotecture claimed it was at the forefront of research and development of nanoporous materials, delivering high-surface-area nanoporous materials which have wide-ranging applications in the design and production of high performance batteries and supercapacitors.
The technology, which is based on the technique of liquid crystal templating discovered at the University of Southampton UK, exploits the inherent behaviour of surfactants in solution to align themselves in highly regular geometric structures resembling a honeycomb. With their defined, ordered porosity, these liquid crystal honeycomb structures act as an ideal temporary framework for the alignment and deposition of other materials such as metal salts.
When the surfactant framework is subsequently removed, the remaining material displays the same defined ordered porosity as the original template, i.e. it has become 'nanoporous', consisting of micron-sized particles with pores penetrating all the way through the particles.
Nanotecture nanoporous supercabattery electrode material
The most important consequence and benefit of nano-porosity is the considerably increased surface area available for reactions - hundreds of times greater compared to the original, non-porous material.
Tailoring the technology
Nanotecture has further innovated and refined the original liquid crystal templating technique to control and manipulate parameters such as pore size, surface area, temperature and cycle-life performance. This means that nanoporous materials can be tailored with defined characteristics for specific applications.
Moreover, the technology supports the production of nanoporous materials in different forms - thin-film, monolithic, powder, discrete particles - providing great flexibility for the implementation of different applications, ranging from small thin film sensors and microelectrodes to large-scale supercapacitors.
Its business model was to both license and manufacture.
Nanotecture envisaged large versions for electrical engineering. On the other hand, the small Nanotecture devices could be coin shaped but much thinner and the cleverest part of both was claimed to be nanoporous nickel hydroxide on one electrode. Activated carbon was on the other electrode as in a conventional supercapacitor. A big plus is claimed to be the electrolyte being water based and therefore more environmental and in some respects better performing as publicised by others using aqueous electrolytes in symmetrical and asymmetrical supercapacitors such as Elbit Systems Israel, Cellbit Israel and all the Japanese suppliers collaborating to be green. Nanotecture did not see its technology replacing batteries.
Even though the French government tells us to expect several more supercapacitor manufacturers to be created soon in France beyond Bollore, Europe looks set to remain the continent that is relatively asleep when it comes to making and even using this technology - a grave mistake. For example, Maxwell Technologies is world leader in supercapacitors and its main customer is the Chinese hybrid bus industry. Number two and three supercapacitor manufacturers are Korean.
Look at preparing the new lithium supercabatteries for market and you get the same thing. Much of the big push on lithium capacitors is in the USA and Japan.
The whole of Europe has been filing less patents than any of four countries - China, Japan, Korea or the USA. European Institutes have been active relative to other European organisations but still filing fewer of these patents than Fuji Heavy Industries or TDK on their own for example.
For more read Electrochemical Double Layer Capacitors: Supercapacitors 2013-2023 and Advanced Energy Storage Technologies: Patent Trends and Company Positioning.