21-11-2017 | | By Paul Whytock
Despite all the known ecological, technical, life span and recyclability shortfalls of lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries there is no doubt their use in cars and innumerous consumer products will continue to escalate. Consequently, any technological development that can address any of the existing inadequacies could have an enormous impact on the global battery market.
Having spoken recently about the effectiveness of technical collaborations in the international electronics business it was good to see a joint effort between Japanese conglomerate, Panasonic, and Imec, the nanoelectronics and digital technologies research organisation has resulted in a breakthrough that could mean the much faster charging of electric vehicles (EVs).
We all know Li-ion batteries are the dominant choice of electrical storage in EVs and consumer electronic gizmos and looking further ahead they have demonstrated a capability that would make them suitable as storage units for power generated via sustainable energy technologies.
The key aspect of the Panasonic/Imec collaboration is to accelerate the development of solid-state battery technology. Between them they have created a solid nanocomposite electrolyte (SCE) for future batteries with a Li-ion conductivity higher than its liquid equivalent. The SCE’s wet chemical preparation allows the solid-state electrolyte to be formed into powder electrodes which then solidify but remain flexible.
It is a mesoporous silica monolith that has specific surface chemistry and ionic salts and Panasonic and Imec say it has achieved Li-ion conductivities of 3 to 10 mS/cm at room temperature which is high for solid electrolytes applied via wet chemical coating.
They aim to develop solid nanocomposite electrolyte materials achieving 100mS/cm which would make them suitable for fast-charging high energy cells used in EVs.
In addition to the battery innovations Imec has also designed and made what it describes as a breakthrough neural probe for the parallel recording of hundreds of neural signals.
Called the Neuropixels probe, it was developed for an international consortium consisting of Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Allen Institute for Brain Science, the Gatsby Charitable Foundation and Wellcome.
Scientists at HHMI’s Janelia Research Campus, the Allen Institute and University College London worked together with engineers at Imec to build and test the probes that were designed and fabricated on Imec’s silicon platform.
Why is this probe so important?
Current techniques to map the activity of brain cells lack spatial or temporal resolution. Previous generations of neural probes can only record activity of a few dozen neurons while optical imaging too slow to adequately capture brain activity.
The Neuropixels probe is claimed to solve these issues and enables precise real-time recording of the activity of hundreds of individual neurons.
It does this via nearly 1000 sensors, each measuring 12x12µm. These are positioned on a 20µm shank. This sensor density allows it to record isolated brain spike activity from hundreds of single neurons in parallel. The recorded signals are sent through nearly 400 recording channels to the base where they are filtered, amplified and digitised to provide researchers with noise-free digital data.