Nanowires to enhance battery life

December 20, 2007 | 12:00

Tags: #batteries #battery #cell #charge #laptop #li-ion #lithium #nanotechnology #portable #power

Companies: #stanford

Researchers at Stanford University have unveiled a new battery design using teeny nanowires constructed from silicon. Aside from the predictable bonus points that comes from having the prefix 'nano' in the title, the technology promises to store ten times as much energy as existing lithium ion batteries can.

Yi Cui, assistant professor of materials science and engineering at the university, claims the new design is a “revolutionary development” capable of turning a current two-hour laptop battery into a twenty-hour behemoth without increasing size or weight. Which certainly has me interested.

Traditional lithium ion (Li-Ion) batteries use an anode constructed from carbon which holds the lithium when charged. Silicon is capable of holding much more lithium than carbon, but has the irritating (and possibly explosive) habit of swelling when charged and shrinking when discharged. This cycle of growing and shrinking causes the silicon to break down, eventually killing the battery.

The research promises a solution to the problem via everyone's favourite buzzword: nanotechnology. By forming the silicon into a 'forest' of nanowires the material is able to grow and shrink without fracturing. Candace Chan, one of Cui's graduate students and a driving force behind the new technology, claims previous problems in developing silicon-lithium batteries were purely down to “the shape they were using.”

Cui has filed for a patent on the technology, and is currently looking for a battery manufacturer to help bring the devices to market. I for one will certainly be first in the queue for a battery that can finally drive my laptop for a full working day.

Tempted by a twenty-hour laptop, or is the thought of so much energy stored in such a small place giving you the heebie-jeebies? Discharge (ho-ho) your thoughts via the forums.
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