A Texas-based startup is looking to gather capital to create and market a Li-ion substitute. So, are hemp batteries better than Lithium?
Hemp, a fiber plant utilized in products like clothes, construction materials, food, and auto parts, has the potential to play a significant role in the development of electric vehicle (EV) batteries that are less expensive, safer, more effective, and less harmful to the environment.
That is the assertion made by the Texas-based startup Bemp Research Corp., which has created an alternative to lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries. Bemp is seeking investors to fund money to develop and market their B4C-hemp lithium sulfur (LiS) battery technology, which stands for “Boron Carbide made from hemp.”
Prototypes of Bemp’s LiS/B4C-hemp technology, which were developed and independently evaluated at The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM), have considerable benefits over Li-ion batteries. According to the business, commercial uses of LiS/B4C-hemp would solve the problems that Li-ion batteries have with regard to price, weight, scalability, performance, and recycling.
“We believe that our B4C-hemp battery will be an industry game-changer,” said Son Nguyen, founder of Bemp, who worked with mechanical engineers Deyang Qu at UWM and Sheldon Shi at the University of North Texas to study and develop LiS/B4C-hemp. “We are excited to be entering the industry at a time when the world is moving toward EVs to offset a century of over-reliance on fossil fuels for cars and trucks. Bemp is an innovator and will be part of the change.”
Why would a battery use hemp? How fast can Bemp’s battery recharge to 100%? When might the LiS/B4C-hemp technology be available? In a recent interview with EnergyTech, Nguyen addressed these concerns as well as others.EnergyTech: Please explain your LiS technology, its planned uses, and the advantages LiS/B4C-hemp have over Li-ion batteries.
EnergyTech: Please describe your LiS technology, its intended applications, and why LiS/B4C-hemp is superior to Li-ion batteries.
Son Nguyen: LiS/B4C-hemp is superior to Li-ion batteries in terms of gravimetric energy density, safety, and, most importantly, costs and environmental friendliness. Our chemistry uses lightweight and abundant materials such as sulfur, boron, and carbonized hemp – instead of heavy metals such as nickel and cobalt. LiS/B4C-hemp batteries will be great for heavy-duty trucks and electric airplanes.
ET: What is hemp’s function in the technology, and why is hemp the right material choice?
Nguyen: Hemp was chosen as one of the core materials due to its durability, porosity, and low costs. LiS batteries have problems such as the cathode contracting/expanding during charging/discharging, and the cathode’s polysulfides shuttling to the anode and hurting the batteries’ performance. Researchers could solve these problems using expensive materials such as graphene, but graphene is impossible to mass-produce. Hemp is a better, lower-cost solution. Hemp’s durability can help the cathode withstand hundreds of cycles of contraction and expansion. Hemp’s porous structure can help “trap” the polysulfides from shuttling to the anode.
ET: Significant supply chain bottlenecks exist across the manufacturing spectrum, including Li-ion battery manufacturing. Would your LiS/B4C-hemp batteries overcome any Li-ion supply chain challenges?
Nguyen: Sulfur is very abundant. Boron is also relatively abundant, with the biggest boron mine being in California. We also have a strategic partnership with Delta Agriculture, the biggest hemp producer in the USA. Delta Agriculture highlights that hemp is a legal crop that requires little water, no pesticides, and is better at carbon sequestration than trees. Being an American company, our focus right now is to make batteries for American electric vehicles, and we do not see any supply chain problems. Bemp batteries are less reliant on rare earth metals from around the globe and thus will help U.S. national security.
ET: Why is LiS/B4C-hemp better than Li-ion from safety and environmental/recycling standpoints?
Nguyen: LiS/B4C-hemp is safer than Li-ion because if the battery is damaged, punctured, bent, or crushed, sulfur will immediately react with lithium to form a passive layer – so it will not combust. Also, there is no metallic oxide in our chemistry so there is no risk of thermal runaway like in Li-ion chemistries. Since there is no cobalt or nickel, and lithium is the only valuable metal in our chemistry, recycling can be done much more easily compared to Li-ion. We just need to recover the lithium, and that is it.
ET: How far along are you in developing the technology, and what’s the next step?
Nguyen: We have done many stress tests to see how our LiS/B4C-hemp batteries perform at different charge/discharge rates. They can be fully charged in 20 minutes and will still have double the gravimetric energy density of the best Li-ion batteries. At slower charge rates, the gravimetric energy density can be even higher. This means doubling or tripling the range per charge for electric vehicles. The cycle life is also very good for lithium sulfur engineering, and we estimate our batteries will be good for 100,000 miles being fast-charged, longer for slow charging, before being recycled.
The next step is to make bigger cells and battery packs and do even more stress tests. Our batteries performed well in a very wide temperature range in the lab, for example, but we need to let them cycle longer in extremely cold and extremely hot temperatures to verify our findings.
ET: When might your technology become commercially available, and what would likely be the first commercial applications?
Nguyen: We plan to mass produce our batteries before 2026. The first applications will be for drones and heavy-duty electric vehicles such as buses and trucks.