Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Realizing Lithium-Battery Potential (SQM)

Sociedad Quimica y Minera is the world's largest lithium miner, if you're looking for a way to play. It is not mentioned in this article.
From MIT's Technology Review:

Nanoporous silicon that soaks up ions without self-destructing can make better batteries.

Electrodes in 3-D: These silicon particles can absorb over six times more lithium ions by weight than graphite can, making them a candidate for creating electrodes for supercharged lithium batteries. The nanoporous structure shown in the electron micrograph close-up (lower image) enables the silicon to absorb a lot of lithium without shattering.
Credit: Jaephil Cho, Hanyang University

Lithium batteries are driving a renaissance in electric-vehicle development, and what's attractive is not just the charge capacity of current prototypes, which is twice that of the nickel metal hydride batteries in hybrid vehicles. According to an assessment of electric-vehicle batteries published by the University of California, Davis, in May, "more important" is the potential for further performance improvement. A high-energy lithium-battery electrode developed at Hanyang University, in Ansan, South Korea, could make good on some of that potential.

The Hanyang team, led by chemist Jaephil Cho, developed a nanoporous silicon electrode that could at least double the charge capacity of a lithium battery--essentially doubling the range of an electric vehicle. And unlike previously reported silicon anodes, the one created by Cho's team can charge and discharge rapidly.

"It's very good, very impressive work," says Stanford University materials scientist Yi Cui, who is developing his own nanostructured silicon electrodes for lithium batteries.

Charging a lithium battery involves moving lithium ions from the battery's positive electrode (or cathode) into its negative electrode (or anode). Silicon's electrochemical affinity for lithium ions makes it an excellent material for an anode. But silicon tends to overindulge: anodes made of the material absorb so much lithium upon charging that they swell to four times their previous volume. Upon discharging, they deflate to their original size, and just a few charging cycles are usually enough to pulverize the brittle material...MORE