Pomegranate-Inspired Battery Breakthrough

Researchers inspired by the pomegranate’s arils produce a breakthrough in battery design.

battery, fruit, biomimicry, silicon, anodeIn a paper published in the most recent issue of Nature Nanotechnology, researchers at the Stanford National Accelerator Laboratory (SLAC) have described how an electrode designed after a pomegranate seed could improve the durability of silicon-based batteries.

Unlike traditional Li-ion batteries, which employ a graphite anode, newly developed silicon anode batteries have the ability to store up to ten times more charge than their traditional counterparts. Given the fact that we’re becoming a society in love with mobile computing, extending battery life could mean our devices could last for days at a time while still offering significantly more performance.

To help usher in this new world of powerful mobile computing, researchers are ever looking for more ways to increase battery life. However, when designing silicon-based batteries there’s a catch: charging silicon anodes tend to swell, causing fracturing in the anode itself. What’s more, silicon doesn’t usually react well with electrolytes and produces a “gunk” which coats the anode and reduces its performance.

To eliminate these issues, associate professor Yui Cui and his team at Stanford have started to use silicon nanoparticles encased in carbon cells to prevent fracturing and allow for anode swelling. While that technique has been done before, Cui’s team took that design one step further assembling a host of cells within another carbon shell creating a more “sturdy highway for electrical currents.”

“While a couple of challenges remain, this design brings us closer to using silicon anodes in smaller, lighter and more powerful batteries for products like cell phones, tablets and electric cars,” said Yi Cui.

At the moment, Cui and his team’s major challenge is finding a way to simplify their manufacturing process and make their new design more commercially viable. Fortunately, the SLAC team believes they’ve found a solution to scale the new battery for commercial production. By mining silicon dioxide-rich rice husk the researchers believe they can create as many silicon nanoparticles as they’ll ever need.

Although it might be a while before we see high performance silicon batteries on the market, we may one day live in a world of ubiquitous supercomputing mobiles; and if that were to come to pass, I wonder if desktop computers will continue to have a future outside of high-performance CAD applications?

Image Courtesy of SLAC