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Sand-based anode triples lithium-ion battery performance

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July 8, 2014

UC Riverside researchers have developed a lithium-ion battery with superior performance us...

UC Riverside researchers have developed a lithium-ion battery with superior performance using sand

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Conventional lithium-ion batteries rely on anodes made of graphite, but it is widely believed that the performance of this material has reached its zenith, prompting researchers to look at possible replacements. Much of the focus has been on nanoscale silicon, but it remains difficult to produce in large quantities and usually degrades quickly. Researchers at the University of California, Riverside have overcome these problems by developing a lithium-ion battery anode using sand.

When Zachary Favors, a graduate student at UC Riverside working on developing better lithium-ion batteries, noticed that the beach sand he was relaxing on after surfing in San Clemente, California was primarily made up of quartz, or silicon dioxide, it prompted him to delve a little deeper. Researching where in the US sand could be found with a high percentage of quartz, he ended up at the Cedar Creek Reservoir in Texas.

He collected some of the sand and took it back to a lab at the Bourns College of Engineering at UC Riverside where he worked with engineering professors Cengiz and Mihri Ozkan. Favors started milling the sand down to the nanometer scale before putting it through a series of purification steps that gave it a similar color and texture to powdered sugar.

He then ground salt and magnesium into the purified quartz and heated the resulting powder. In this very simple process, the salt acted as a heat absorber while the magnesium removed oxygen from the quartz, resulting in pure silicon. More than that, the pure nano-silicon formed in a very porous, 3D silicon sponge-like consistency. Porosity is one of the keys to improving the performance of battery anodes as it provides a large surface area and allows lithium ions to travel through them more quickly.

Schematic showing how sand is turned into pure nano-silicon

The team has developed a coin-sized lithium-ion battery using the new anode that they claim significantly outperforms conventional lithium-ion batteries. They say the improved performance of the nano-silicon electrode could be expected to equate to a threefold increase in battery life for devices such as mobile phones, which would only need to be recharged every three days rather than every day, and electric vehicle batteries that last three times longer, cutting down on expensive replacement costs.

The researchers are now looking to produce the nano-silicon in larger quantities and move from coin-size batteries to pouch-size batteries like those used in mobile phones.

Patents have been filed for the technology, which is detailed in the journal Scientific Reports.

Source: University of California, Riverside

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick
8 Comments

I suspect our current battery technology will be the subject of much ridicule by future generations in much the same way we view floppy disks and physically massive 5 gigabyte hard drives.

Mel Tisdale
9th July, 2014 @ 05:35 am PDT

All these improved batteries, but I am still purchasing either really short lasting conventional, or rechargable that don't last but a few months at a full capacity, When can we buy something longer lasting? And not for several thousand dollars, like the first computers..

LowFlyerXX
9th July, 2014 @ 07:55 am PDT

Well, there you go. The Middle East, once they run out of oil, will be back in business! Of course the price of sand will skyrocket along with beachfront property which will be sold with mineral rights.

pickypilot
9th July, 2014 @ 09:20 am PDT

Hhhhmmm the Alberta tar sands perhaps a duel fuel..

Bob Flint
9th July, 2014 @ 10:16 am PDT

Can you imagine the Pay Day ????

Leonard Foster Jr
9th July, 2014 @ 12:42 pm PDT

Improving technology with abundant materials. I love it.

Fretting Freddy the Ferret pressing the Fret
9th July, 2014 @ 12:50 pm PDT

@LowFlyerXX - try Sanyo eneloop batteries.

MisterH
10th July, 2014 @ 09:56 am PDT

they have applied for patents..

billybob1851
10th July, 2014 @ 10:54 am PDT
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