It turns out that sand is the key ingredient to creating more efficient batteries, researchers at the University of California, Riverside's Bourns College of Engineering found. Sand-based lithium ion batteries outperformed the current industry standard by three times.
"This is the holy grail - a low cost, non-toxic, environmentally friendly way to produce high performance lithium ion battery anodes," graduate student Zachary Favors, working with engineering professors Cengiz and Mihri Ozkan, said in a statement.
Graphite is the material currently used for anodes, or the negative side of batteries. But as technology is advancing and becoming more powerful, graphite cannot keep up.
In his research, Favors focused on using silicon dioxide, or quartz - a primary component in sand - as a replacement for graphite at the nanoscale level. His primary objective was to create better lithium-ion batteries that can be used for personal electronics and electric vehicles.
The problem with nanoscale silicon is that it degrades quickly and is hard to produce in large quantities. To get around this snag, Favors researched areas in the United States where sand has a high percentage of quartz - he ended up in the Cedar Creek Reservoir, east of Dallas.
Through a series of purification steps, Favors ended up with pure silicon - whose porous, sponge-like consistency has resulted in its improved performance.
The results could mean expanding the expected lifespan of silicon-based electric vehicle batteries up to three times or more. Consumers would no longer have to pay thousands of dollars for replacement batteries for their mobile devices, tablets or even electric cars, and it could mean having to recharge battery-powered products every three days, instead of every day.
Now, the research team is trying to produce larger quantities of the nano-silicon beach sand and is planning to move from coin-size batteries to pouch-size batteries that are used in cell phones.
The findings were published July 8 in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.
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