Algae fuel improvements to lithium-ion battery tech

As notebook makers continue to obsess over ever-thinner designs that leave little room for batteries, dramatic improvements in battery tech may be the only way to get a full day's worth of run time out of future devices. Fortunately, lithium-ion batteries could one day be on the receiving end of an upgrade that boosts their capacity by an order of magnitude. MIT's Technology Review has published an interesting article on researchers who have been able to bolster battery capacity by switching from graphite anodes to silicon ones.

Silicon anodes aren't a new thing, but they reportedly swell to up to four times their original size during charging, which compromises the polyvinlidene fluoride binding agent used to hold them together. While scientists at Georgia Tech and Clemson haven't been able to prevent this swelling, they have discovered an algae-based binding agent that can withstand it. The anode they've built using the kelp extract is said to have eight times the energy storage capacity of the best graphite anodes.

Don't hope for that kind of improvement in battery life just yet, though. A matching cathode is required to exploit the technology's full potential, and it hasn't been developed yet. However, even with existing cathodes, the researchers say their new silicon anode can improve battery capacity by 30-40%. There's even a claim that the algae-based binding agent can improve the performance of traditional graphite-based anodes. That only applies to the number of discharge cycles the battery can endure, though—not how much charge it's capable of carrying.

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