US scientist Esther Sans Takeuchi has received this year’s European Inventor Award for her development of lithium batteries to power modern implantable cardiac defibrillators (ICDs).
The honour was given by the European Patent Office (EPO) in the non-EPO countries category, awarded during a ceremony at the Théâtre Alexandre Dumas, Paris, on 7 June.
Takeuchi’s batteries, which are made of lithium silver vanadium oxide (Li/SVO), extend the power source lifespan of ICDs to around five years. The battery’s invention has enabled a wider adoption of ICDs in its reduction of patients’ need to undergo replacement surgery, while increasing patient comfort and safety.
The batteries are implanted underneath the individual’s collarbone and administer a high-voltage shock in the instance of cardiac arrest, resetting the patient’s heart.
The Li/SVO batteries have already been incorporated into other medical implantable devices and pumps, such as those which manage cardiac rhythm and neurostimulation. However, the energy storage capacity of Takeuchi’s batteries could hold significant opportunities for developments in the energy sector.
More compact and efficient means of storing and releasing energy are being consistently sought in the industry, offering companies a means of avoiding costs and increasing profits while enabling a smarter and more flexible energy system. Long-life, high-voltage batteries could be of particular use in the creation of products such as electric vehicles, which face the continued challenge of poor accessibility to charging stations.
Though battery storage remains something of a grey area in the industry, with demand and markets as of yet unestablished, inventions such as Takeuchi’s demonstrate the possibilities they offer.
Based on her background as a materials scientist and chemical engineer, Takeuchi developed the new battery model using a number of pioneering techniques, such as a new cathode material, a highly conductive electrolyte, and a new cell design based on stacking alternating layers of cathodes and anodes, increasing surface area and enabling higher power.
The anode is made of lithium, as it is the only material capable of providing large amounts of energy at a high volume. Though conventional lithium batteries cannot sustain a long lifespan if discharged over two amperes multiple times, the addition of silver vanadium oxide (SVO) combats this problem as the silver provides conductivity to help deliver power, while linadium enables long-life and high-voltage.
The cathode material is comprised of epsilon-phase SVO prepared using gamma-phase SVO starting material. This material has a lower surface area than the more common epsilon-phase SVO made from vanadium oxide, meaning longer-term stability in pulse dischargeable cells was ensured.
Additionally, the new design can reduce or entirely eradicate swelling in lithium cells containing carbon monofluoride (CFx), again ensuring its stability. This is achieved when CFx materials are synthesised from fibrous carbonaceous materials, as compared to petroleum coke.
Takeuchi is one of four women being honoured with this year’s European Inventor Award, the highest number since the ceremony launch in 2006.
The award is given annually to honour exceptional inventors and their creations from around the world, noted for their contributions to social development, technological progress and economic growth.