iPod and laptop battery lives could increase by 10 times, researchers say

(U-WIRE) STANFORD, Calif. – It’s the end of a long, exhausting day. You quickly finish that paper and pass out. The next morning, you check your cell and realize that, in your hasty retreat into unconsciousness, you forgot to plug in your phone.

Battery life is one of the only limitations of widespread electronic use. However, it may no longer be a concern in the near future: the research of Materials Sciences and Engineering Prof. Yi Cui could significantly elongate battery life.

Cui has been studying the use of silicon nanowires to increase battery capacity, perhaps by as much as 10 times. He explained that a laptop that lasts two hours today may last up to 20 hours if the new battery research is applied.

Cui’s research has implications for everyday appliances such as iPods, laptops, cell phones, electric automobiles and even medical devices such as pacemakers.

“There are many companies that have contacted us about our research,” said Candace Chan, a graduate chemistry student in Cui’s lab. “Tesla Motors is talking to us about using this technology in their cars.”

Cui explained that a simple concept lies behind his newfound discovery.

“How much energy a battery can store depends on how many lithium ions can be stored,” he said. “The more lithium ions, the higher the battery power. Using silicon nanowire electrodes allows us to store more lithium ions without increasing the weight of the battery.”

Though silicon has been recognized as a good and cheap material for batteries, it has never been applied due to the fact that it expands upon absorbing lithium.

“My idea,” Cui explained, “was to use nanowires. When nanowires take a lot of lithium in, they are so small that they don’t break.”

If Cui’s silicon batteries become commercialized, the silicon would replace the carbon that is currently being used in batteries.

“Carbon is already an environmentally friendly material,” he said. “But the silicon battery can help electric cars become more popular since high energy power is important for electric automobiles.”

But there is still much to be accomplished both in the laboratory and in the market.

“We have a laboratory prototype so far,” Chan said. “The next step would be to commercialize this into something that can be used in a laptop or cell phone.”

“Research-wise, I plan on pushing towards making this battery technology better,” Cui said. “From a practical standpoint, I’m thinking about starting up a company or working with existing companies to push this technology into commercialization.”

Nonetheless, Cui’s research has already received international publicity.

“We’ve had media from Germany and China contact us,” Chan said. “This is a very exciting topic of research right now.”

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