Wishing You a Nanowire Forest in the New Year

Via Eco-Geek1 we learn that Stanford researchers believe that they have found a way to extend the life of lithium ion batteries by a factor of 10. “The new batteries use silicon nano wires”.

Instead of using carbon to store the lithium ions in the anode, they’re using silicon. Silicon can hold far more ions, however, it actually stores so many ions that it literally swells during charging and contracts during use.

Basically silicon nanowires revolutionize the way that the batteries electrodes work. Material scientists had avoided lithium because the swelling and shrinking quickly led to complete destruction of the anode. Silicon nanowires “allow the anode to absorb the lithium without breaking down.”

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Photos taken by a scanning electron microscope of silicon nanowires before (left) and after (right) absorbing lithium. Both photos were taken at the same magnification.

Hank Green reports that the nanowire “forest” expands to four times it’s original size during charging, without the wires fracturing.

The Stanford New announcement credits assistant professor of materials science and engineering, Yi Cui, as leading the development whereby researchers found a way to use silicon nanowires. “It’s not a small improvement,” Cui said. “It’s a revolutionary development.”

Research on silicon in batteries began three decades ago. Chan explained: “The people kind of gave up on it because the capacity wasn’t high enough and the cycle life wasn’t good enough. And it was just because of the shape they were using. It was just too big, and they couldn’t undergo the volume changes.”

Then, along came silicon nanowires. “We just kind of put them together,” Chan said.

For their experiments, Chan grew the nanowires on a stainless steel substrate, providing an excellent electrical connection. “It was a fantastic moment when Candace told me it was working,” Cui said.

Cui said that a patent application has been filed. He is considering formation of a company or an agreement with a battery manufacturer. Manufacturing the nanowire batteries would require “one or two different steps, but the process can certainly be scaled up,” he added. “It’s a well understood process.”

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1Researchers Extend Lithium Ion Battery Life 10X
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