October 11, 2012
The Next Generation of Battery Technology: An Interview with Dr Fernando Gómez-Baquero
By: Will Soutter
Battery Energy Storage Systems Technologies (B.E.S.S. Technologies)
is a spin-out company from the College of Nanoscale Science and
Engineering (CNSE) at the University of Albany, focused on
commercializing novel energy storage technologies. In this Insights from
Industry interview, co-founder and CEO Dr Fernando Gomez-Baquero talks
to Will Soutter about their technology and processes, and about their
partnership with the CNSE.
WS: Could you give us an overview of B.E.S.S. Technologies and the field you are working in?
B.E.S.S. Technologies is a component design and engineering venture.
Our mission is to improve the battery systems of assemblers and
manufacturers of batteries, providing them with high-performing
component designs. Currently we are developing an anode solution for
assemblers and manufacturers of lithium ion batteries.
WS: What benefits does your technology offer over existing energy storage systems?
FGB: Our product is a novel anode for lithium ion batteries that offers the following benefits:
Higher energy density: our anode has a unique silicon/silicide chemical
composition and surface engineering that provides more than 3 times the
energy capacity of graphite (i.e. above 1200mAh/g). We also have a
product development plan that aims to double that capacity.
Higher power delivery: our anode technology has a hyperbranched
nanostructure that can increase surface area by 2 orders of magnitude
when compared to traditional graphites or other nano-silicon anodes.
Increased surface area allows the material to deliver higher power
densities, in this case without losing the energy storage capacity.
Faster charging rates: current anodes are usually operated at low
charging rates to prevent damages to the material. Our nanostructure and
our unique chemical composition work together to withstand fast
charging rates. We have successfully tested our anode at charging rates
5-10 times faster (5C-10C) than what is usually recommended for anodes
4. Simple manufacturing with no extra materials: our anode is
manufactured using two well-known, highly scalable manufacturing
processes known as Physical Vapor Deposition (PVD) and Chemical Vapor
Deposition (CVD). Our anode does not require the use of binder materials
or carbon mixes, can be fabricated in any format size, and uses
materials that are easily recyclable.
WS: How does nanotechnology help you achieve these benefits?
Silicon-based anodes were proposed many years ago as a possible
solution to improve lithium ion batteries. But bulk silicon anodes have
such a short lifetime (only work for a few charge/recharge cycles) that
it made them impractical for rechargeable batteries.
first “rescued” silicon when researchers discovered that silicon
nanostructures (below 150nm according to a recent study) do not suffer
from cracking and fracturing upon lithiation. But creating
nanostructures (e.g. nanoparticles, nanowires, nanopillars) is not
enough because there are electrochemical reactions that also reduce the
useful life of silicon anodes.
So, we have used nanoengineering
to make a leap forward and create an anode material that is
surface-nanoengineered to mitigate the problems that arise from unwanted
electrochemical reactions, while at the same time capturing the
benefits of a small size.
And this is just the beginning.
Nanotechnology is allowing us to customize the performance
characteristics of the anode and in the near future it will help us add
value in the form of better performance and will help us incorporate new
functionalities to battery systems.
WS: Many novel technologies
based on nanomaterials look good on the lab scale, but run into
difficulties when scaling up – have you met any issues with large scale
FBG: Our approach is to keep manufacturing simple,
take advantage of well-known processes, and overall offer a solution
that will be cost-effective. To do so we only use two manufacturing
processes (CVD and PVD) that have been around for several decades and
are extensively used in large-scale manufacturing in the semiconductor
and photovoltaic industries.
We are currently working with
equipment manufacturers and have found that our lab process is easily
translatable to large-scale production. We also want to offer our
customers a manufacturing plan that will reduce other costs.
anode manufacturing is sometimes a lengthy process done in several
steps that can at least include: material preparation, mixing, coating,
drying and calendaring. Our process is a simple 2 step PVD-CVD that can
have an anode ready for assembly in a very short period of time.
You have recently entered into a licensing agreement with the College
of Nanoscale Science and Engineering at the University of Albany. How
will the facilities and knowledge available to you help with development
of the technology?
FBG: There are several advantages to
partnering with a $14 Billion R&D nanotechnology endeavour that is
the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CNSE). The most
obvious one is access to specialized tooling, equipment, and brain-power
that allows us to do accelerate our R&D efforts and reduce our time
Additionally, we are part of the iClean incubator
(housed at the CNSE) that has provided us with technical incubation
assistance, introduction to private investment firms, legal and
insurance contacts, mentoring, and other start-up business support.
day we take advantage of this growing cluster of innovators and of the
resources that would otherwise be too expensive for a start-up company
WS: How do you see the world of energy storage
changing over the next few years, as nanotechnology-enhanced solutions
like yours become more prevalent?
FBG: Consumers today recognize
the immense importance of energy storage. They often wonder (as I do)
why their mobile phone cannot stay charged for a whole day. They also
recognize how important advances in energy storage are if we want to
build a future where renewable energies and electric transportation are
predominant in our economy.
Until now, a large part of the
battery technologies that consumers use are not great, just good enough.
In the next few years several innovations will compete to capture niche
markets and will create a competitive landscape where performance will
Many nanotechnology-enhanced solutions will enter the
market, but only the ones that can demonstrate continuous performance
improvements will dominate. This performance focus will make the energy
storage market more similar to the semiconductor industry, and less
similar to the chemicals/materials-driven industry that it is now.
WS: How do B.E.S.S. Technologies’ plans for the future fit into that vision?
I often ask people: if you demand more powerful, faster, and lighter
laptops and mobile phones, why not demand the same from batteries? Our
mission is to be a preferred partner of battery manufacturers, and help
them answer to these customer demands by improving the performance of
their battery systems.
Currently we do so by applying
nanoengineering to lithium-ion battery components, and in the future we
will use our knowledge and expertise to improve other energy storage
systems such as lithium-air or flow batteries.
Even though we
have extensive knowledge about materials, we are not a materials
company. We use materials and nanotechnology to add value to energy
storage components. That is what the future of energy storage demands.
WS: Where can we find more information about B.E.S.S. Technologies?
You can visit our website www.bess-tech.com and send us an email at
email@example.com. We are always happy to engage in interesting
discussions and provide more information about our technology.