LOS ANGELES: Scientists are developing inexpensive, energy-efficient lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles by using silicon-based anodes made from the fossilised remains of single-celled algae called diatoms.
The research at the University of California, Riverside (UCR) in the US could lead to the development of ultra-high capacity lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles and portable electronics.
Lithium-ion batteries, the most popular rechargeable batteries in electric vehicles and personal electronics, have several major components including an anode, a cathode and an electrolyte made of lithium salt dissolved in an organic solvent.
While graphite is the material of choice for most anodes, its performance is a limiting factor in making better batteries and expanding their applications.
Silicon, which can store about 10 times more energy, is being developed as an alternative anode material, but its production through the traditional method, called carbothermic reduction, is expensive and energy-intensive.
To change that, the team turned to a cheap source of silicon - diatomaceous earth (DE) - and a more efficient chemical process.
DE is an abundant, silicon-rich sedimentary rock that is composed of the fossilised remains of diatoms deposited over millions of years.
Using a process called magnesiothermic reduction, the group converted this low-cost source of Silicon Dioxide (SiO2) to pure silicon nano-particles.
"A significant finding in our research was the preservation of the diatom cell walls - structures known as frustules - creating a highly porous anode that allows easy access for the electrolyte," said Cengiz Ozkan, professor of mechanical engineering at UCR.
This research is the latest in a series of projects led by Mihri Ozkan, professor of electrical engineering at UCR, and Cengiz to create lithium-ion battery anodes from environment-friendly materials.
Previous research has focused on developing and testing anodes from portabella mushrooms and beach sand.
"Batteries that power electric vehicles are expensive and need to be charged frequently, which causes anxiety for consumers and negatively impacts the sale of these vehicles.
"To improve the adoption of electric vehicles, we need much better batteries. We believe diatomaceous earth, which is abundant and inexpensive, could be another sustainable source of silicon for battery anodes," Mihri said.