Rechargeable batteries of the future
|A team of engineers from the Americam Northwestern University has created an electrode for lithium-ion rechargeable batteries that allows the batteries to hold a charge up to 10 times greater than current technology. Batteries with the new electrode also can charge 10 times faster than current batteries.
A paper describing the research is published by the journal Advanced Energy Materials.
"We have found a way to extend a new lithium-ion battery's charge life by 10 times," said Harold H. Kung, lead author of the paper, professor of chemical and biological engineering. "Even after 150 charges, which would be one year or more of operation, the battery is still five times more effective than lithium-ion batteries on the market today."
In current rechargeable batteries, the anode, made of layer upon layer of carbon-based graphene sheets, can only accommodate one lithium atom for every six carbon atoms. To increase energy capacity, scientists have previously experimented with replacing the carbon with silicon, as silicon can accommodate much more lithium: four lithium atoms for every silicon atom. However, silicon expands and contracts dramatically in the charging process, causing fragmentation and losing its charge capacity rapidly.
Currently, the speed of a battery's charge rate is hindered by the shape of the graphene sheets: they are extremely thin -- just one carbon atom thick -- but by comparison, very long. During the charging process, a lithium ion must travel all the way to the outer edges of the graphene sheet before entering and coming to rest between the sheets.
Now, Kung's research team has combined two techniques to combat both these problems. First, to stabilize the silicon in order to maintain maximum charge capacity, they sandwiched clusters of silicon between the graphene sheets. This allowed for a greater number of lithium atoms in the electrode while utilizing the flexibility of graphene sheets to accommodate the volume changes of silicon during use.
Kung's team also used a chemical oxidation process to create miniscule holes (10 to 20 nanometers) in the graphene sheets so the lithium ions would have a "shortcut" into the anode and be stored there by reaction with silicon. This reduced the time it takes the battery to recharge by up to 10 times.
The technology could be seen in the marketplace in the next three to five years, the researchers said.
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