Using sand as the key material, researchers at the University of California, Riverside’s Bourns College of Engineering have made a lithium ion battery that has three times the capacity of the current standard battery.
“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 with Cengiz and Mihri Ozkan, both engineering professors at UC Riverside.
The idea struck favors six months ago. Relaxing on the beach after surfing in San Clemente, Calif, Favors took a look at the sand and it was made up of quartz, or silicon dioxide.
His research was primarily based on building better lithium ion batteries, mainly for electric vehicles and consumer electronics. He particularly focused on the negative side of the battery or anode. The current standard material for the anode in a lithium ion battery is anode, but as the electronics demand more power, graphite’s ability to improve has been virtually tapped out.
Researchers are now stressing on using silicon at the nanoscale, which is a billionth of a meter, as the replacement to graphite in lithium ion batteries. The drawback however is that nanoscale siicon degenerates quickly and is not easy to be manufactured in large quantities.
Favor, setting out to solving both of these problems, searched the sand to find such a place in which the sand had a particularly higher percentage of quartz which let him to the place where he grew up, the Cedar Greek Reservoir in east of Dallas.
Holding that sand, Favor came back to the lab at UC Riverside and broke it down to the nanometer scale and a series of purification steps afterwards that changed its color from brown to bright white, whch is similar in colour and texture to powdered sugar.
Salt and magnesium were grounded afterwards, both of which are common elements dissolved in sea water into the puritfied quartz. The result was another powder which was heated. Salt acting as a heat absorber and magnesium removing oxygen from the quartz, pure silicon was formed.