HOUSTON (July 16, 2012) Researchers at Rice University and Lockheed Martin reported this month that they've found a way to make multiple high-performance anodes from a single silicon wafer. The process uses simple silicon to replace graphite as an element in rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, laying the groundwork for longer-lasting, more powerful batteries for such applications as commercial electronics and electric vehicles.
The work led by Sibani Lisa Biswal, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Rice, and lead author Madhuri Thakur, a Rice research scientist, details the process by which Swiss cheese-like silicon "sponges" that store more than four times their weight in lithium can be electrochemically lifted off of wafers.
The research was reported online this month in the American Chemical Society journal Chemistry of Materials.
Silicon one of the most common elements on Earth is a candidate to replace graphite as the anode in batteries. In a previous advance by Biswal and her team, porous silicon was found to soak up 10 times more lithium than graphite.
Because silicon expands as it absorbs lithium ions, the sponge-like configuration gives it room to grow internally without degrading the battery's performance, the researchers reported. The promise that silicon sponges, with pores a micron wide and 12 microns deep, held for batteries was revealed in 2010 at Rice's Buckyball Discovery Conference by Thakur, Biswal, their Rice colleague Michael Wong, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and of chemistry, and Steven Sinsabaugh, a Lockheed Martin Fellow. But even then Thakur saw room for improvement as the solid silicon substrate served no purpose in absorbing lithium.
In the new work, they discovered the electrochemical etching process used to create the pores can also separate the sponge from the substrate, which is then reused to make more sponges. The
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