Researchers Developed New Battery Tech That Won't Be In Smartphones Anytime Soon

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Researchers from the University of Alberta recently developed a new battery technology that could provide ten times more charge capacity compared to the lithium-ion power packs. This battery technology utilizes silicon nanoparticles as an electrode for the lithium-ion batteries, and this material offers several advantages over 95-percent pure graphite, the material that manufacturers currently use as the anode for their batteries. Silicon is abundant, and the substance only costs around a third of the price of high-purity graphite, which sells for more than $10,000 per metric ton. Furthermore, silicon holds more lithium ions compared to graphite, which helps in improving the charge capacity of the batteries.

However, using silicon as a material for the anode of lithium-ion batteries has its own disadvantages. One of the drawbacks of using silicon is its poor electrical conductivity compared to graphite. Furthermore, silicon can break after being exposed to numerous charge and discharge cycles, which could mean that the batteries may no longer work properly after the user tops up their devices multiple times. To resolve these issues, researchers from the University of Alberta tested varying sizes of silicon nanoparticles embedded in graphene aerogels. Upon several trials, scientists observed that smaller silicon nanoparticles are a better fit in batteries since more compact particles can better manage the strain caused by repeatedly absorbing and releasing lithium ions. The better management of strain results in the improved long-term stability of batteries equipped with silicon anodes. The results of the research show that these batteries retain more than 90% of its charge capacity even after 500 cycles of battery charging and it offers around ten times the battery capacity of existing solutions. Even though the technology is promising, another hindrance in deploying silicon nanoparticles into batteries is the lack of techniques that allow for the cheaper production of these materials, although the researchers mention that they are planning to develop manufacturing procedures for silicon nanoparticles.

Background: Researchers and industry stakeholders have been involved in multiple efforts to improve the capacity of batteries and charging speed included in mobile devices. Back in 2016, a company aimed to increase the charge capacity of lithium-ion batteries by using lithium metal foil anodes. These electrodes take up only 20-percent of the space occupied by graphite electrodes, and this technology offers twice the energy capacity of existing battery solutions. On the other hand, Samsung recently patented a battery technology that incorporates graphene balls into lithium-ion batteries, and this material helps the power packs charge five times faster. This technology also helps alleviate concerns related to battery safety, since it helps limit the temperature of the power pack at 60 degrees Celsius. However, several battery manufacturers hope to introduce solid-state batteries soon, although manufacturing costs associated with these power packs discourage many companies from producing them.

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Impact: This battery technology offers numerous advantages over existing solutions. Aside from increasing the battery capacity, the incorporation of silicon particles may also reduce the time spent by users in charging their devices since they no longer need to top up their smartphones as often as they used to. This technology could also allow device makers to include smaller power packs inside their devices without sacrificing the battery life of the handset. Researchers also noted that this battery technology could also improve the distance traveled by electric cars on a single charge.