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Silicon nanoparticles used to create a super-performing battery

By

February 14, 2013

Scientists have used etched silicon nanoparticles in the anode of a next-generation lithiu...

Scientists have used etched silicon nanoparticles in the anode of a next-generation lithium-ion battery (Photo: Shutterstock)

In some peoples’ opinion, electric cars won’t become truly viable until their batteries offer a lot more driving range, and can be recharged much more quickly than is currently possible. Well, those people may soon be getting their wish. Scientists at the University of Southern California have developed a new type of lithium-ion battery, that they claim holds three times as much energy as a conventional li-ion, and can be recharged in just ten minutes.

The battery was developed by a team led by Prof. Chongwu Zhou. Its secret is that it utilizes anodes made from porous silicon nanoparticles – anodes are the electrodes through which electrical current flows into a battery. Ordinarily, anodes in li-ion batteries are made from graphite.

Because silicon is relatively inexpensive and highly conductive, its use as an alternative anode material has been explored for some time now. Some of the previous efforts have involved constructing anodes made of layered silicon plates. Unfortunately, as those anodes swelled and shrunk during the charge/discharge process, the plates separated and the anodes ceased functioning.

Last year, however, Zhou had success using silicon nanowires. Only a few microns long and less than 100 nanometers in diameter, those wires were able to withstand the constant expansions and contractions. Additionally, their porous structure gave them a large surface area, which allowed lithium ions to travel through them much more quickly than would be possible with graphite. What’s more, they lasted for up to 2,000 recharging cycles, as compared graphite’s average of 500.

The nanowires had a downside, though: they’re not practical to manufacture on a commercial scale. Therefore, Zhou’s team proceeded to take commercially-available tiny silicon spheres (the nanoparticles), dope them with boron, and then etch pores into them, similar to those found on the nanowires. Anodes made from those particles offer charging performance on par with the nanowires, and can be made in any size – that in turn means that the silicon nanoparticle anodes could be used in any size of battery, usable in any type of device. We've inquired as to whether the ten-minute charging time refers to one specific size of battery, and are still waiting to hear back from USC.

Unfortunately, there still is one more “however.” The new anodes currently only last for about 200 recharge cycles. That said, Zhou is hoping that further developments will substantially increase that number. His team is also looking into new cathode materials, with the hope of developing batteries that discharge current as efficiently as the new anodes allow them to receive it.

He believes that such batteries should be commercially available within two to three years.

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Nano Research.

Source: University of Southern California

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
16 Comments

A really good battery, but it still uses lithium (which isn't exactly abundant).

When batteries like this can use (say) sodium (which is almost infinite in its supply) and get similar performance to lithium, then I'll be really interested.

mooseman
14th February, 2013 @ 03:15 pm PST

I hope i will still be around the day we all drive electric cars, Please hurry up Scientists!!! :(

Realmcoyoneone REalmcoyoneone
15th February, 2013 @ 01:39 am PST

Until the batteries and electricity cost less over the life of the car than the fuel that they replace electric cars are a bad idea. And remember if people stop buying gas and diesel the taxes will be placed on something else, it is not in the nature of government to give up cash flow.

Slowburn
15th February, 2013 @ 05:15 am PST

Lithium ion batteries are what are catching fire in the new Boeing aircraft! Not sure I want to ride around in a fire trap.

What ever happened to the LiFE (lithium iron) batteries that were the be all to end all a few years ago? They would not ignite, could be charged at very quick and aggressive rates, etc.

sailr
15th February, 2013 @ 08:11 am PST

any step forward is good by me...

nice of tesla to set up free charging systems.

billybob1851
15th February, 2013 @ 09:29 am PST

You might think from some of these comments that people didn't actually want new battery technology. I for one am excited about this development. Batteries are lagging behind the rest of our technological progress from consumer devices to automobiles to storage solutions for clean energy. This is great stuff.

Stradric
15th February, 2013 @ 11:05 am PST

someone email elon musk,i'm sure he'd want to invest in this research.

floccipaucinihilipilification
15th February, 2013 @ 01:34 pm PST

@billybob

"nice of tesla to set up free charging systems. ". Free? We loaned them $465 million dollars in taxpayer money. They've lost money every quarter. They've repaid $29.5 million (not hard to do when you paying back a loan with the money you borrowed but it can't last now can it?). It has to sell all 5,000 of the promised 2013 S type production in order to approach profitability - it has built about 600.

There is no "free".

Joseph Boe
15th February, 2013 @ 02:14 pm PST

@mooseman

Luckily, you are wrong: Lithium is super abundant. The rumor that it was not had been promulgated by an influential crank and 9/11 conspiracy nut.

@ Joseph Boe

There is no free - agreed. But so what? At present we're subsidizing the bloody oil industry, despite gargantuan profits which they use to torpedo clear thinking and alternative energy solutions.

moreover
15th February, 2013 @ 05:02 pm PST

an article about 3 months ago touted a group in washington state univ. that invented a battery with 3 times the power and that they would be producing the batteries within one year. let's have a follow up!

Right now Tesla's most expensive battery is supposed to get 300 mile range per charge. This would normally be enough unless you live in high temperatures or cold temperatures. With 3 times the power a tesla driver could probably run a heater or a/c.

When the price comes down to where even I could afford it; then everyone will have one...and the government will start taxing electricity and road use. Road use is already being taxed in some places.

notarichman
16th February, 2013 @ 07:40 am PST

I think we should take oil subsidies and give them to solar and battery R&D firms... Oil might be cheaper now, but only until we run out. If we don't develop these technologies now, we will suffer greatly in the near future. Beside that, some things are worth doing regardless of money and profit, which are man made matters. What isn't man made that matters? Air, water, clean soil... Furthermore, those complex carbon chains that we call crude oil are far too valuable to burn. Mama Nature isn't making any more of that either....not on time scales we can look forward to anyway... More money to battery research!!!!

rwalker
16th February, 2013 @ 08:55 am PST

Electric vehicles have a lot of good qualities, but will forever be limited by battery weight and capacity.

Electric cars are still decades away from being cost-competitive with ICE vehicles. In the interim, we need to be looking at replacing fossil fuels with carbon-neutral alternative fuels, like bio-butanol from algae. Butanol is a near direct replacement for gasoline, and can be run in virtually any gasoline engine with little modification.

It will take about 100 million acres to produce the fuel we need in the US from algae; the bright side is that it doesn't have to be prime farmland, just needs sunshine and water- which could be coastal brackish water.

William H Lanteigne
16th February, 2013 @ 03:38 pm PST

I have read about 20 battery breakthroughs over the past few years. None of them have become commercially viable. I hope sooner or later, some do. Good luck to these folks.

David Lewis
16th February, 2013 @ 10:55 pm PST

I agree with David about the x number of reported battery inventions and breakthroughs. These developments take time. The public is waiting to get better mileage and the car industry is still dragging its feet. Why not develop a battery form factor for all electric cars (AA, AAA,C,D) that when it runs out can be exchanged at regular energy stations (converted gas stations) in about 5 minutes and can be replaced by newer technology like the one in this report when these become available. There is a company that does that now (The Better Place) but I do not understand why is the adoption of the idea is stalling. After all, car companies do no sell their cars with an endless amount of gas right out of the dealership doors.

Just my thought.

Toeknee
18th February, 2013 @ 11:15 am PST

Toeknee,

Hot swap batteries sound like a great idea. And if we cant get the range that we are used too from petroleum driven cars, then I'm sure some entrepreneur will simply open up a hot-swap-shop to accommodate the shorter allowable distances.

Point being, electric cars are the future until we crack hydrogen as a storage and fuel medium (pun intended). And that future is right now judging by the price of oil.

cm
18th February, 2013 @ 06:58 pm PST

Nano silicon used as raw materials for next generation Li-on battery can hold anode capacity at least three times as much as a conventional Li-on. There are two companies:Sinode and Amprius which can make this technology commerical.

nanoparticle
23rd May, 2014 @ 12:48 am PDT
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