Just like researchers have been trying to find less toxic, more natural components for use in solar panels, they have also been working on developing better, safer batteries. The latest example is a team of engineering researchers at the University of California Riverside who have discovered a surprising replacement for the graphite anodes in lithium-ion batteries that is not only non-toxic but makes the batteries last three times longer: sand.
Yes, sand. Well, specifically quartz, the primary component in sand.
The researchers found out where in the U.S. sand had the highest percentage of quartz, which led them to the Cedar Creek Reservoir outside of Dallas. They gathered sand from that spot and then brought it back to the lab where they milled it down to the nanometer scale and purified it. They then ground salt and magnesium -- common sea water elements -- into the quartz. After heating the powder, they were left with pure silicon.
After testing the new anode in coin-sized batteries, they found that the porous silicon majorly boosted battery performance.
“This is the holy grail – a low cost, non-toxic, environmentally friendly way to produce high performance lithium ion battery anodes,” said Zachary Favors, a graduate student working on the project.
UC Riverside says that "the energy density is more than three times higher than that of traditional graphite based anodes, which means cell phones and tablets could last three times longer between charges."
The researchers also believe that the lifespan of silicon-based electric vehicle batteries could be increased by three times or more using this new silicon anode.
The team is now working on producing larger batches of the nano-silicon beach sand for use in larger pouch-sized batteries like those found in cell phones.