USC scientists make a better battery that can charge in 10 minutes

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Lithium-ion batteries power just about every gadget we own, from phones to laptops—and even cars. The problem is that these batteries degrade every time you charge up, and charging can take hours or even days for electric vehicles with much larger batteries.

What if I told you that a team of researchers from the University of Southern California developed a new kind of lithium battery that recharges in just 10 minutes? It almost sounds too good to be true, but the researchers say that’s not all it can do.

The scientists created this new battery by using porous, flexible silicon nanowires in place of the traditional graphite anodes. This new material apparently triples the battery’s capacitance and allows the battery to handle as many as 2,000 charging cycles before it needs to be replaced. Current lithium batteries typically last between 500 and 1000 charging cycles before their capacity significantly drops off.

Mingyuan Ge and Chongwu Zhou/USC
On the left, a vial of the silicon nanoparticles; on the right, silicon nanoparticles viewed under magnification.

The problem with current lithium battery technology is that it uses microscopically thin sheets of graphite or silicon that allow positively charged ions to come and go as the battery charges and discharges. Over time, as ions move through these sheets, they begin to degrade, causing the battery's capacity and efficiency to decline.

To solve this, the USC researchers began experimenting with silicon nanowires designed with tiny pores that allow the silicon to expand and contract without breaking. The nanoscale anode medium also increased the surface area inside the battery allowing the lithium ions to diffuse in and out of the battery more quickly, improving its performance.

The team has moved on to develop a battery using commercially available nanoparticles in the shape of tiny silicon spheres etched with the same microscopic pores. Next, the researchers want to improve the lifespan of their nanoparticle battery while looking for a new high-capacity cathode material to create a completely redesigned battery.

[University of Southern California via Engadget]

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