A research study headed by Zachary Favors, a graduate student working at University of California, Riverside, about a new method of producing batteries, has recently been published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.
He is calling it the Holy Grail of batteries – it being a low cost, non-toxic, environmentally friendly way to produce high performance lithium ion battery anodes.
Not only that.
The researchers also claim that other than being cheap, it outperforms the current industry standard by three times.
The material used? Sand!
Favors said he got the idea six months ago when relaxing on a beach in California, and playing with sand.
A lithium-ion battery comprises an electrolyte that transports lithium ions back and forth between the negative electrode (anode) that typically uses lithium and the positive electrode (cathode) that traditionally uses graphite—both of which are kept apart by a separator. When connected to a device, they cause an electrochemical reaction.
Graphite has long been the standard material for the anodes in lithium ion batteries and the study was about finding a better replacement for it.
They have done research on using silicon at the nanoscale, or billionths of a meter, level to substitute graphite. Silicon is said to store 10 times more energy than graphite but the problem with nanoscale silicon is that it degrades quickly and is hard to produce in large quantities.
And so while playing with sand, Favors knew that he needed to find quartz, salt, and magnesium and did research to find beaches whose sand contained high concentrations of quartz.
He found the kind sand at Cedar Creek Reservoir, east of Dallas where he grew up.
At the lab, Favors ground the sand down to a fine, nanoscale powder and adding heat, he made nano-silicon. It was pure and, importantly, spongy. The sponge-like porosity of the silicon, a quality that allows liquid or air to pass through minute spaces or holes, proved to be the key to improving the performance of the batteries built with the nano-silicon.
The research team said that if this efficiency continues to improve, it could be a game-changing discovery that triples the power of everything from cell-phone batteries to those propelling electric cars.