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Using Beach Sand to Make Li-Ion Batteries That Last Longer

Charge your phone with that white stuff from the beach.


Beach sand, on the left ,and purified sand in the middle. The right image shows vials of the former two, and a third made up of nano-silicon used to make the battery. Image credit:Scientific Reports.

According to the latest study released in the journal of Scientific Reports, beach sand can be used to make lithium-ion batteries that last three times longer compared with the present models.

Talking of this new invention, Zachary Favors, a graduate student at UC Riverside said, it was very good approach to producing high performance lithium-ion battery anodes because of its characteristics of being low-cost, non-toxic as well as environmentally friendly.

One day Favors was resting on the beach after surfing, the idea suddenly appeared in his mind, because he realized sand was made up of a high percentage of quartz, or silicon dioxide.

Generally anode– the negative side of lithium-ion batteries is made with graphite. It was hoped that silicon could replace graphite for the reason that it could store nearly 10 times more energy, but the problem is that there is some difficulty in producing it in quantities and it could degrade rapidly. However, the silicon in sand could help solve such problem as a cheap and rich source of silicon.

To bring his idea into reality, Favors found a reservoir of sand with an even higher fraction of quartz, in Texas and started with his experiment in the lab. By doing so, he ground salt and magnesium into the purified quartz and then heated the powder from his grounding. During such process, Favors discovered that the salt played its role as a heat absorber well and at the same time the magnesium removed oxygen from the quartz. As a result he got the pure silicon as expected.

Additionally, the pure nano-silicon formed in a quite porous, 3D silicon sponge-like consistency. Porosity is regarded as one of important factors in improvement of the performance of battery anodes, because it could offer a large surface area and make it possible for lithium ions to travel through anodes in a more rapid way.

With such technology being filed for patents, the researchers are intended to apply it for production of a coin-sized lithium ion battery, which would allow phones to use for about three days with just one charge instead of the current average of about one day per charge.

Source: livemint

Journal reference: Favors, Zachary, et al. “Scalable Synthesis of Nano-Silicon from Beach Sand for Long Cycle Life Li-ion Batteries.” Scientific reports 4 (2014).