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Research / Discovery

Inexpensive, longer-lasting batteries could revolutionize the military, automobiles, and health care

December 15, 2009

Colorado State University's Clean Energy commercialization arm, Cenergy, has co-founded a new company that will manufacture batteries up to 1,000 times more powerful, 10 times longer-lasting and cheaper than traditional batteries -- technology that could revolutionize the military, automobile and health care industries.

Technology conceived by chemistry professor

Amy Prieto, assistant chemistry professor, originally conceived the Prieto Battery, which can be manufactured at half the price of current electric/hybrid vehicle battery technologies.

Prieto Battery is the first startup produced by the business arm of Colorado State’s new Clean Energy Supercluster, called Cenergy. The university formed Cenergy in March 2008 to more quickly move clean-energy innovations from research laboratories into the commercial marketplace.

The technology was originally conceived by Amy Prieto, an assistant chemistry professor in Colorado State’s College of Natural Sciences. Prieto Battery aims to produce lithium ion batteries based on tiny or nanostructured materials on a mass scale.

First prototype expected early '10

Prieto expects to demonstrate the first prototype of her battery by early next year. Bohemian Asset Management in Fort Collins – a privately held division of the Bohemian Cos. – has supplied the first round of funding for the new company.

“The automobile and clean energy sectors are hamstrung by expensive, slow charging batteries that exhibit low-power densities,” said Prieto, who is chief scientific officer for the company. “Resolving these issues will create explosive growth and resolve major obstacles to these markets.”

“Battery systems are the single most important component when it comes to reducing the cost of PHEVs and EVs,” said L.G. Chavez, president and CEO of The Burt Automotive Network in Denver. “We are routinely asked by our fleet customers when new battery technology will be available. Dr. Prieto’s battery could not only help our industry take a significant step forward but also change the world as we know it.”

How it works

Using a process called electrodeposition, Prieto deposits or grows nanowires that make up the first key piece of the battery, the anode. She again uses electrodeposition to coat these tiny structures with polymers – organic materials – that conduct lithium ions but keep the anode and the cathode electrically separated.

Students James Mosby, Derek Johnson, Assistant Professor Amy Prieto, and student Tim Arthur are pictured in the chemistry lab where the technology to produce the new lithium ion batteries was first conceived.

The separation is important for keeping the battery from shorting. The cathode material is added, and the result is a three-dimensional battery.

The nanowires that make up the anode cover a surface area that is 10,000 times greater than a traditional battery. By comparison, roughly 1,000 nanowires could fit in the width of a human hair.

Much larger surface area

This high number of three-dimensional wires creates a much larger surface area than any other current battery. The electrodeposition manufacturing method is fast and inexpensive, allowing the technology to be scaled up to create batteries that can be used for everything from pacemakers to automobiles.

The automotive market alone, by 2013, is expected to surpass 1 million cars with 18 kilowatt hours of batteries each for a projected market of $4 billion.

Transform electric/hybrid vehicle market

“We believe Prieto Battery has created a process that will transform the electric/hybrid vehicle marketplace. Not only will it create a much more powerful battery that can be charged in minutes rather than hours, but it can be manufactured at half the price of current battery technologies, thus opening the market to a much broader group of consumers,” said Tim Reeser, Cenergy chief operating officer and CEO of Prieto Battery. “And with partners such as Bohemian, Colorado State professors continue to make a global impact on our planet while creating primary jobs in Northern Colorado.”

CSU’s technology transfer office applied for a patent that encompasses all Prieto Battery technology in February. The patent has been exclusively licensed to Prieto Battery.

Prieto joined Colorado State in 2005. She completed her post-doctoral research at Harvard University and received her doctoral degree from the University of California-Berkeley.