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Porous silicon particle anode 'triples capacity' of lithium-ion battery

Researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) have developed a new lithium-ion battery design that uses porous silicon nanoparticles in place of the traditional graphite anodes.

The new batteries - which could be used in anything from cell phones to hybrid cars - are claimed to hold three times as much energy as comparable graphite-based designs and recharge within 10 minutes. The design, currently under a provisional patent, could be commercially available within two to three years.

‘It’s an exciting research. It opens the door for the design of the next generation lithium-ion batteries,’ said Chongwu Zhou, professor at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, who led the team that developed the battery.

Zhou worked with USC graduate students Mingyuan Ge, Jipeng Rong, Xin Fang and Anyi Zhang, as well as Yunhao Lu of Zhejiang University in China. Their research was published in Nano Research in January.

According to USC, researchers have long attempted to use silicon in battery anodes but previous designs broke down from repeated swelling and shrinking during charging/discharging cycles.

Last year, Zhou’s team experimented with porous silicon nanowires that are less than 100nm in diameter and just a few microns long. The pores on the nanowires allowed the silicon to expand and contract without breaking while simultaneously increasing the surface area, which in turn allowed lithium ions to diffuse in and out of the battery more quickly, improving performance.

Though the batteries functioned well, the nanowires are difficult to manufacture en masse.

To solve the problem, Zhou’s team took commercially available nanoparticles - silicon spheres - and etched them with the same pores as the nanowires. The particles function similarly and can be made in any quantity desired.

Though the silicon nanoparticle batteries currently last for 200 recharge cycles (compared to an average of 500 for graphite-based designs), the team’s older silicon nanowire-based design lasted for up to 2,000 cycles, which was reported in Nano Letters last April.

Further development of the nanoparticle design should boost the battery’s lifespan, Zhou said.

Future research by the group will focus finding a new cathode material with a high capacity that will pair well with the porous silicon nanowires and/or porous silicon nanoparticles to create a completely redesigned battery.

Readers' comments (4)

  • What I fear personally, is a big anti-electric car company using their capital to purchase the above IP and and restrict any up and coming electric car companies *cough* Tesla Motors *cough*. With three times the capacity and potentially more given development of a suitable cathode, the whole hydrogen car (or hybrid for that matter) debate goes out the window.

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  • Having just got into electric powered Radio-controlled aircraft this is excellent news. Sadly I fear it will take a while till we see sensibly priced batteries like this though. I agree with comment #1 too.

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  • It's not just transport that will benefit - surely one of the biggest challenges we face today on the eco-front, is that of economical electricity storage. Now that PV systems are falling in price, surely the next step is to increase the efficiency of the storage systems so the power generated during the day can be used at night, rather than feeding it into and out of the national grid. Let's see how the power companies handle their prices when we no longer have to rely on them. At all.

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  • AS a very happy driver for the last three months of a Citroen C Zero fully electric car I welcome the possibility of increased battery range in the not so distant future. Although my present theoretical max range of 90 miles is not a problem for me it could be for others until more high rate charging points allowing charging within half an hour to 80% full capacity (16kw with the Citroen C Zero) are available at service stations, shopping centres, etc so they can be used as stepping stones for longer unrushed journeys.
    What I would really like to see is the encouragement through some incentive (remember the car scrapping scheme) to convert existing roadworthy small cars to electric power so that electric vehicle ownership could become more affordable and so bring forward the day when there are many millions of electric vehicles on our roads improving the air we breath and providing the electrical power storage that David Mayer mentions.

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