Egg-like nanoparticles for lithium-ion batteries. [Image: Zhi Wei She et al., Stanford University]
New battery technology is five years away, and always will be.
Well, that's the impression you might get whenever new technology is announced. Some of it is very, very clever indeed, but much of it is only theoretical, and the rest has rarely been tested on suitably large scales.
Silicon nanoparticle battery tech currently under development at the University of Southern California (USC) really could be only a few years away, should everything go to plan.
Most recent battery technology developments have focused on improving the materials used in the anode and cathode.
The easier you can get lithium ions to diffuse in and out of the anodes and cathodes, the faster a battery can be charged. The more ions you can store, the more charge you can store, and the better the materials, the longer the battery will last before performance degrades.
USC's new tech, led by professor Chongwu Zhou, replaces traditional graphite anodes with a design using porous silicon nanoparticles.
Silicon is attractive for its low cost and high potential capacity, but previous experiments have seen particles break during charging and discharging. The new particles have been etched with pores, allowing them to stretch, and letting lithium ions to diffuse in and out of the battery more efficiently.
These new designs have lasted 2,000 charge and discharge cycles in testing, but their main benefits are speed and capacity.
A typical battery, as found in an electric vehicle or portable device, could charge in only ten minutes--and hold three times as much energy as current designs.
For the end user, that means electric cars (and phones, and laptops) which last for longer, and are out of action for less time.
They're all promises we've heard before, but as ever, we await production-level trials with interest.