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Silicon nanowires significantly boost lithium ion battery capacity


Stanford University assistant professor Yi Cui and his research team are about to revolutionize lithium ion battery technology. Cui was able to overcome an existing design limitation and construct a battery capable of producing ten times more electricity than an equivalent sized lithium ion battery using current technology. Just imagine being able to use a battery-powered notebook for 20 hours instead of the 2-3 hours of service that existing lithium ion batteries provide now.

All due to silicon nanowires

The storage capacity of a typical lithium ion battery is limited by the amount of lithium that can be held in the battery’s anode, which is typically made from carbon. In the process of trying to improve the lithium ion battery researchers found that an anode made from silicon is able to hold significantly more lithium than a carbon anode. Sounds great, but using silicon instead of carbon has a downside. As the battery is charging—silicon anode is absorbing lithium—the silicon physically swells up to four times its original size. Then as the battery discharges, the silicon anode shrinks back to its normal size. The swelling and shrinking of the silicon material lead to the rapid deterioration of the silicon anode, reducing the storage capacity of the battery.

Professor Cui and his team resolved this problem by using silicon nanowires as noted in this ScienceDaily article. Silicon nanowires—having a diameter of one thousandth of the thickness of sheet of paper—are bonded to a stainless steel substrate and made into a usable battery. The silicon still swells and shrinks, but the nanowires remain stable creating a system that is able to hold ten times the lithium resulting in ten times the charge capacity.

Possibilties

The potential uses for this technology are vast. Any device that uses lithium ion batteries stands to benefit from a tenfold increase in battery life. Professor Cui mentions:

It's not a small improvement. It's a revolutionary development ... Given the mature infrastructure behind silicon, this new technology can be pushed to real life quickly.

It appears that this technology will also spread to electric cars and solar-powered systems as these batteries are an efficient method to store electricity and power devices.

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3 comments
steve6375
steve6375

or maybe more resilient to puncture?

CorporateLackie
CorporateLackie

One key factor in the explosive potential is the total capacity of the battery that is exploding (watt-hours). With a battery 10X more efficient shrink the size by 90% while maintaining comparable runtim and "probably" have comparable explosive potential ... but all other things being equal (and I will freely admit that all other things RARELY ARE equal) 10X capacity implies a large increase in explosive capacity as well... IMHO ;-)

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

In my research I tried to find out any information about the new technology being any more resistant to the existing problems, but was not successful. I suspect that there may not be enough data points to determine that yet. The design is completely different as well as the anode material being made from silicon nanowires instead of carbon.

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