Sand-Based Batteries Outperform Others Up to 3 Times, Study Finds

Image: Sand-Based Batteries Outperform Others Up to 3 Times, Study Finds File photo of the sand on beach.

Thursday, 10 Jul 2014 09:34 AM

By Nick Sanchez

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Sand-based batteries may soon replace the standard graphite-based battery, potentially tripling the industry standard for charge capacity.

"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 at University of California, Riverside, whose research was published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports this week.

Graphite has long been the standard material for the anodes in lithium ion batteries, but scientists have wrung nearly all they can from it. Many have moved on to experimenting with nanoscale silicon as a replacement, but The Economic Times reported that "it degrades quickly and is hard to produce in large quantities."

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Looking to overcome these barriers, Favors searched for a way to make silicon cheaply, and ended up at the beach.

He knew that he needed to find quartz, salt, and magnesium and did research to find beaches whose sand contained high concentrations of quartz. Serendipitously, he found that Cedar Creek Reservoir, east of Dallas where he grew up, has such a concentration.

By grinding the sand down to a fine, nanoscale powder and adding heat, he made nano-silicon. It was pure and, importantly, spongy. Preliminary testing showed that the porous substance improved performance in coin-sized batteries threefold.

The research team said that if this efficiency scales, it could be a game-changing discovery that triples the power of everything from cell-phone batteries to those propelling electric cars.

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