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Charging ahead with carbon-ion batteries

15 November 2017

In light of the drawbacks posed by traditional lithium-ion batteries, what is the way forward for cordless floorcare machines? Stephen Voller, founder and CEO of ZapGo, discusses the promise of a new technology, carbon-ion, that could offer a more viable alternative

Convenient, lightweight, productive, quick: these are just a few of the many reasons why people choose cordless floorcare machines. Yet despite these features, a machine is rendered useless if lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries lose their charge too quickly or take too long to recharge. Many are all too familiar with rushing to clean up a spill only to realize there’s no charge left in the cleaner or, due to the lengthy time to recharge, that it takes all day to clean up.

Cordless floorcare devices need to be charged at a docking station before they can be used. The amount of time a cordless cleaner can be operated depends on the type of battery inside and what setting it is used on, with running times varying substantially. But when the battery needs to be charged, usually taking a few hours, a cordless cleaner is temporarily as useless as a traditional device whose power cord is too short to reach the wall outlet. For businesses and consumers, minimising that recharge time would be a great convenience and a major advancement.

Some drawbacks of Li-ion

With Li-ion battery packs, if there has been insufficient time to recharge them since the last job, a delay in completing tasks is inevitable. The nearest socket may be located at a distance from the area to be cleaned, so time and effort is wasted swapping out batteries. Also, Li-ion battery packs have a relatively short life cycle, with approximately 1,000 charge and discharge cycles before they begin to deteriorate. Consequently, the packs typically have to be replaced every other year at significant expense to the user. 

Additionally, Li-ion battery packs are known to pose a potential safety risk. Tests have been conducted on commercially available battery packs in which the pack was penetrated by a nail; the pack immediately bursts into flame, releasing toxic smoke. Clearly, with many cordless floorcare machine batteries in use every day, there are serious safety concerns.

Carbon-ion cell technology

In contrast to Li-ion, carbon-ion powered cordless floorcare machines can be fully charged in minutes rather than hours, eliminating the need to waste time at a cleaning site. In addition, carbon-ion battery packs last much longer than their Li-ion counterparts, specifically up to 100,000 charge and discharge cycles. This means that carbon-ion power packs will outlast the floorcare machine in most cases, providing a much lower total cost of ownership as well as avoiding the issues associated with the need to replace machines on a regular basis. 

Carbon-ion cells combine the fast-charging characteristics of a supercapacitor and—within a few years—are anticipated to match the energy density of Li-ion batteries, while also being safe and recyclable (unlike Li-ion). Unlike Li-ion, which is a battery and works by an electrochemical reaction that is the source of the risks that have been publicised by the media, carbon-ion cells pose no similar risk. This is because they incorporate a new, less-volatile type of electrolyte—called an “ionic electrolyte”—that does not contain any of the flammable chemicals in the “organic electrolytes” used in Li-ion batteries.

Although carbon-ion cells are not intended to be retrofitted into existing machines that currently employ Li-ion batteries, work has already begun to design and build a new generation of cordless tools that incorporate carbon-ion cells. A functioning cordless cleaner has already been demonstrated at CES 2017, where the recharge time was reduced from hours using Li-ion batteries to less than five minutes using a carbon-ion cell.

Li-ion floorcare machines will most likely always be commercially available in one form or another. However, the advantages of carbon-ion cells will be increasingly recognized by cleaning staffs and private individuals, and will likely be a progressively more popular option as time goes by and occupy an increasing portion of the market because of the perks they offer.

For these reasons, carbon-ion represents a potential way forward that could benefit a range of floorcare tasks.