Scientists have created a new type of carbon that could make the batteries in our phones, tablet computers and laptops safer, more powerful, quicker to charge and longer lasting. In a paper in Angewandte Chemie, an international team led by researchers at Lancaster University in the UK and Jilin University in China report the first organically synthesized porous carbon, called OSPC-1.

This new carbon shows exceptional potential as a material for anodes in lithium-ion batteries. These batteries power millions of devices, such as mobile phones, laptops and power tools, and are also used in larger complex situations, such as space satellites, commercial airplanes and electric cars.

The industry standard material used for anodes in lithium-ion batteries is a form of carbon called graphite. The scientists compared the performance of OSPC-1 against graphite and discovered that OSPC-1 is able to store more than twice as many lithium ions – and thus more than twice as much power – as graphite at the same mid-range speed of charging.

In addition, OSPC-1 is able to store lithium ions at more than double the rate of graphite – meaning charging speeds can be twice as fast. Discharge speeds can also be vastly improved with OSPC-1, allowing it to power more energy-hungry applications.

Uniquely, OSPC-1 has been created at the molecular level using a complex technique called 'Eglinton homocoupling', which involves removing silicon from carbon-silicon groups to produce carbon-to-carbon links. The resulting structure is amorphous, very stable and, crucially, highly conductive.

"Our team has used an entirely new method to produce the only porous carbon designed at the molecular level."Abbie Trewin, Lancaster University

Another major advantage of OSPC-1 is its safety. It does not form dendrites, which are lithium-metal fibers that can form when lithium gets stuck on the surface of graphite. If these dendrites build up and reach across to the cathode they can short circuit lithium-ion batteries and cause them to explode into flames.

OSPC-1 also appears to be much longer-lasting than graphite. The team of scientists tested it over 100 charging and discharging cycles and saw no signs of deterioration. In contrast, graphite expands and contracts each time it is charged and discharged, making it susceptible to cracking. The open-framework structure of OSPC-1 means it is less brittle and not as prone to these weaknesses.

Graphite is the industry standard, however, because it is very cheap to produce and easily obtainable. The researchers acknowledge that OSPC-1 would be more costly to produce, at least initially. They therefore believe the most likely early applications would be for situations where safety is the paramount consideration – such as within space satellites and aircraft.

"Our team has used an entirely new method to produce the only porous carbon designed at the molecular level," said Abbie Trewin at Lancaster University, co-lead author of the study. "This new material, OSPC-1, is a highly promising anode material for lithium-ion batteries with a high lithium capacity, an impressive charge and discharge rate capability, potential for a long lifespan and for significantly improved safety performance. We believe OSPC-1 has great potential in those situations where failure could lead to loss of life, or the loss of very expensive equipment in the case of satellites."

The molecular design method used by the team of researchers has potential to be extended to other three dimensional carbon materials. It could thus be used to create a new family of porous carbon materials that could offer benefits for energy storage, electronic devices, catalysis, gas storage and gas separation technologies.

This story is adapted from material from Lancaster University, with editorial changes made by Materials Today. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of Elsevier. Link to original source.