Samsung's next-gen tech could spawn smaller, supercharged batteries

Samsung researchers have found a way to make silicon a more viable material for future lithium-ion batteries.

Let's face it: batteries suck. The only reason battery life is getting better is because everything else in our devices is getting smaller. That allows manufacturers to make more room for the dang power pack without having to improve anything but the efficiency of the software.

This situation may soon change, however. A team of researchers that includes mostly Samsung-affiliated scientists claim they have found a way to make next-generation lithium ion batteries carry more energy than current batteries even after the 200th discharge cycle. The group recently published their findings in Nature.

The key to the new batteries is silicon, which is a great material for anodes (the electrode through which a battery's electrical current flows) because it can hold a larger charge than graphite-based anodes. Scientists have been talking about silicon anodes for years, and some li-ion batteries are already using silicon because of its larger capacity.

The problem is that when you charge an li-ion battery, you have to insert lithium into the silicon. That causes the anode to expand by as much as 400 percent, according to Nexeon, a company that also works on silicon-based anodes.

The silicon shrinks back to its normal self once the battery discharges, but you need to provide more space in the battery to allow for the silicon's increase in volume with each charge. Plus, that repeated expansion and contraction causes silicon to break down over time. Once that happens, the material loses conductivity and the battery is done--and in a much shorter time frame than current li-ion tech.

To get around the expansion issue, Samsung's researchers say you can take that silicon and grow some carbide-free graphene on it as a coating. This coating helps counteract the expansion, and keeps the silicon intact for a longer period of time. This means you can end up with a smaller battery with a greater capacity than current technology, as first reported by PC Perspective.

The impact on you at home: The Samsung-funded paper makes the technology sound promising. The authors claim the graphene-coated silicon anodes allow for charging densities that are 1.8 times greater than current li-ion batteries on their first charge. By the 200th charge, those anodes are still holding 1.5 times more volumetric energy density than what we have now.

Just don't count on seeing a Samsung battery like this anytime soon. For now, this is just a research paper, but the paper's authors are hopeful this new technique "can serve as a prototype in advancing silicon anodes to commercially viable technology."

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Ian Paul

PC World (US online)
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