Researchers at UBC Okanagan are collaborating with Fenix Advanced Materials of Trail to design and develop a battery that is smaller and more powerful than what’s currently available.
Using raw materials from BC-based companies, the goal is to create a tellurium-based cathode—a tiny device that will be used to make all-solid-state, lithium-tellurium batteries. 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.
Strategic partners of this new research collaboration are all members of Greater Trail’s Metal Tech Alley—a consortium of sustainable companies that encourage and support economic development in Southern BC.
Don Freschi, CEO of Fenix Advanced Materials, says the collaboration with UBCO will result in next-generation batteries that will have an added economic benefit.
“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,” says Freschi. “This can stimulate our rural economy and advance our technological capability through circular economy.”
Fenix Advanced Materials is a clean technology company specializing in the manufacture of ultra-high purity (UHP) metals. The company sells a variety of UHP metals for use in solar energy, telecommunications and infrared applications for commercial and military use. Fenix is one of the very few companies in the world achieving “six nines” (99.9999%) and even “seven nines” (99.99999%) purity in its metal products.
“Tellurium is extremely important to our vision and strategy going forward,” said Freschi. “We see a significant increase in tellurium demand long-term, which is why we’re partnering with a number of universities and organizations for research, extraction and processing for technologies in our pipeline that require ultra-high purity tellurium and other critical metals.”
Rapidly expanding use of portable electronics and the evolution of electric vehicles is driving global demand for smaller but more powerful battery technology, explains Jian Liu, an assistant professor in the School of Engineering at UBC Okanagan.
“Improvements are necessary thanks to many other emerging devices such as medical implants, wireless sensors and radio-frequency identification,” says Liu. “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.”
One tellurium atom can store two lithium ions and two electrons—making it a potent material for storing and releasing electricity.
“Due to its high density, tellurium provides a much higher volumetric capacity than other cathode materials, such as sulfur and selenium,” explains Liu. “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.”
The project and future spin-off projects aim to integrate the supply of raw materials with the development and manufacture of next-generation lithium-tellurium batteries in the BC Interior.
Additional collaborations between UBC, Fenix and other research institutions including the National Cheng Kung University in Taiwan and the Flemish Institute for Technological Research in Belgium are currently being discussed.
The research is possible through a Mitacs Accelerate Grant with partnership from Fenix Advanced Materials and Metal Tech Alley.