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From simple gadgets like digital watches to more complex smartphones and tablets in our purses and pockets to the vehicles that move us around, we are quite dependent on a variety of batteries to power our everyday lives. Unfortunately, major technical obstacles – such as recharging time and the rigidity of typical batteries –still prevent some of these electrically powered devices from being commercially appealing, widely adopted, or even feasible at all.
Happily, there is a lot of work being done in the high tech field of battery technology to help rectify these shortcomings.
Recently, Professor Chongwu Zhou from the University of Southern California has developed a new type of lithium-ion battery that he claims holds three times as much energy as conventional li-ion power sources, and can be recharged in just ten minutes. By utilizing anodes made from porous silicon nanoparticles instead of the usual graphite, Prof. Zhou and his team managed to extend the battery’s life (it can now undergo 2,000 charging cycles) while shortening its charging period.
Due to its low price and high conductivity, scientists have been trying to develop batteries made from silicon for a while, first constructing anodes made of layered silicon plates, and now using silicon nanowires.
Although very promising, some constraints remain.
First, the nanowires used in Zhou’s process are not yet ready for mass production so the team is instead using tiny silicon spheres that offer similar charging performance. These particles can be manufactured in any size however, which means that eventually they can be used in batteries both large and small. Regrettably, these nanoparticle anodes only have a life expectancy of around 200 charge cycles, though according to the team further experiments will allow that figure to increase.
Now more than ever, electricity enables the majority of what we do. Combined with other developments in the areas of power generation and storage, this new battery may help speed the invention and adoption of more useful, greener battery powered new products.
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