Science

Silicon nanoparticles used to create a super-performing battery

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

16 comments
mooseman
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.
Realmcoyoneone REalmcoyoneone
I hope i will still be around the day we all drive electric cars, Please hurry up Scientists!!! :(
Slowburn
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.
JDS
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.
billybob1851
any step forward is good by me... nice of tesla to set up free charging systems.
Stradric
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.
floccipaucinihilipilification
someone email elon musk,i'm sure he'd want to invest in this research.
Joseph Boe
@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".
moreover
@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.
notarichman
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.