Building Better Batteries with Sand
Many technologies depend on others in order to operate and advance. What may be the best example of such a supporting technology is the battery, and without some new discoveries, it may be limiting future mobile devices. Researchers at the University of California, Riverside though have developed a new means to produce anodes for lithium ion batteries cheaply, while still improving performance.
Traditionally lithium ion batteries have used graphite anodes, as the carbon material has the needed electrical properties and resilience. Silicon would be a better material for its electrical properties, but it is hard to produce in large quantities and is less resilient. The Riverside researchers had a new idea for producing silicon anodes after one of them looked at a handful of beach sand. Silicon dioxide, or quartz, is a primary component of many sands, and the researchers realized that it could be purified to pure silicon by heating it with salt and magnesium. This process of removing the oxygen produces very porous silicon nanoparticles, and that porosity is valuable for battery anodes, by increasing the surface area that electrons can access.
Thanks to the nano-silicon’s porosity, batteries built using it as the anode could have triple the lifespan, or better, than conventional batteries. So far the researchers have produced coin-sized batteries, but are trying to move to larger sizes, likes those in cellphones.