The world is waiting for a breakthrough in energy storage, and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) of the Department of Energy, might just have made it. Their secret to doubling the storage capacity of lithium-ion batteries is to add nanostructured silicon sponges.
Many innovations in the field of energy storage never make it out of the lab and the scientific journals, although most of them give huge promises. Only in the past year, we saw a wood battery, a solid state lithium sulfur battery with increased safety, a bio-battery running on sugar, even a battery that charges in 30 seconds, all of these still not seen on the shelves. This is the reason why I would not blame anyone, who is reading this piece a bit skeptically, although the Department of Energy, and Nature Communications, are certain that it is the real deal, so there must be something in it.
So, let’s have a look at the details. The team of researchers took on the challenge to create an new type of electrode from silicon. They chose the material as it is famous for its energy capacity, but it is also known for its ability to expand enormously due to the huge number of ions that it absorbs, which makes it impractical to use. This is the exact problem, that the scientists decided to tackle.
Their new electrode expands only by the modest 30% as opposed to the typical 400%, which makes it a lot more manageable. They achieved this by making holes in a piece of silicon, creating a mesoporous silicon sponge. Ones made into an anode, it showed an incredible density of 750mAh per gram. In addition, after the test battery went through 1,000 test charge/discharge cycles, it lost only 20% of its total capacity.
With such results, no wonder their discovery made it in one of the most prestigious journals. Although the team is now working on a larger prototype and looking for a process for mass production of the electrode, they surely have the right ingredients to make a revolution in the energy storage field.
Image (c) PNNL