Efficiently Developing Silicon Anodes for Lithium-ion Batteries

Teresa Madaleno

Lithium-ion batteries are probably the most used rechargeable batteries in personal electronics. One component to the batteries is an anode, which is typically made using graphite. The problem is that graphite limits performance so researchers have been scrambling to find a way to develop a better battery. A team of engineers in California think they might have found a solution to the problem.

A paper published in the journal, Scientific Reports, states that the group from the University of California, Riverside’s Bourns College of Engineering have created silicon-based anodes for lithium-ion batteries in an energy efficient and cheap way. What they are doing is turning to diatomaceous earth or DE, which is a silicon-rich sedimentary rock that comes from fossilized remains of diatoms deposited over millions of years. Diatoms are a major group of algae.

As it turns out, using a process referred to as “magnesiothermic reduction”, the researchers converted their source of Silicon Dioxide (Si02) into pure silicon nano- particles. Silicon can store as much as 10 times more energy; however, the current production process actually expends a lot of energy and is rather expensive. This new method addresses that dilemma.

In a science daily report one of the researchers was quoted saying, “A significant finding in our research was the preservation of the diatom cell walls — structures known as frustules — creating a highly porous anode that allows easy access for the electrolyte.”

In addition to being used in personal electronics, lithium-ion batteries are used in electric cars. As some experts have now pointed out, constantly having to charge a car battery can be a big turn-off for drivers and this could be one way to provide a much better battery.

University officials have said, it is hard to imagine, but it seems that we really can go from ancient fossils to future cars.