NSF grant will help commercialize Saratoga Energy’s battery-boosting nanotubes

Saratoga Energy has won a National Science Foundation grant to scale up its breakthrough process for generating low-cost, top quality carbon nanotubes from carbon dioxide for use in making high-performance Lithium ion batteries, such as those used in electric vehicles, grid storage, and military and aerospace applications.

The $723,000 Phase II Small Business Innovation Research grant will allow Saratoga Energy to increase production from 100 grams of carbon nanotubes per day to one kilogram per day. That pilot-scale level of production will help the company sell nanotubes to research labs and small customers as it further develops and tests its product, and gains traction in the advanced-battery marketplace.

Manufacturers use carbon nanotubes as a conductive additive along with anode and cathode materials as part of the battery-making process. The technique improves cycle life and power performance, resulting in batteries that last longer and charge and discharge more quickly.

“Right now, carbon nanotubes for this type of use cost $250 per kilogram,” said Saratoga Energy CEO Drew Reid. “Our new process will allow us to sell them for $5 to $15 per kilogram. And our carbon nanotubes aren’t only cheaper, they’re easier for manufacturers to use: they have a lower surface area than other carbon nanotubes, so they’re less likely to clump together when they’re mixed into the electrode slurries.”

Saratoga Energy serendipitously discovered its process for making 99.95 percent pure carbon nanotubes while working on another battery innovation entirely. The company was developing a process that synthesized graphite from carbon dioxide to enable cheaper, faster-charging batteries when it realized it had invented a new and better way to make carbon nanotubes, as well. These two innovations have helped the Saratoga team win a series of grants from the U.S. Department of Energy, the NSF, and the California Sustainable Energy Entrepreneur Development program.

In big-picture terms, Saratoga Energy’s goal is to enable better batteries for a clean-energy future. Improving batteries is considered key to incorporating larger quantities of intermittent solar and wind energy into the grid. Developing more affordable, more powerful batteries is also considered essential when it comes to expanding the use of electric vehicles.