The number one technological hurdle separating humanity from the Jetson Future we deserve is developing a reliable power supply. Even today, we're barely even able to keep out phones alive through the evening commute. But a radical departure in Lithium ion battery technology could help keep our power-hungry gadgets online for days, not hours.
Conventional Lithium ion batteries, the rechargeable cells what power everything from phones to Priuses, generate current by shuttling positive lithium ions between microscopically thin sheets of carbon graphite located at each electrode. But as these sheets age, their capacity and discharge performance degrades. This is especially true in the new generation of lithium-silicon cells (silicon replacing toxic cobalt as the battery's anode) — the mechanical stress of accepting and discharging electrons causes these silicon sheets to crack over time.
Researchers at the University of Southern California have therefore done away with silicon sheets entirely. According to a study published in the journal Nano Research reports, a team headed by Viterbi School of Engineering professor Chongwu Zhou instead uses fields of porous silicon nano-tubes to shuffle electrons without wearing down and without losing capacity. What's more, the team's provisional patent indicates that this new battery structure could hit the market in just two to three years.
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