Researchers have created a lithium ion battery that can outperform the current industry standard by three times by using sand.
The idea came six months ago as Zachary Favors was relaxing on the beach after surfing in San Clemente, California when he picked up some sand, took a close look at it and saw it was made up primarily of quartz, or silicon dioxide.
He researched different areas around the Unites States with a sand high in quartz. That spot lead him to Cedar Creek Reservoir, east of Dallas, where he grew up.
He came back to the lab at UC Riverside and milled it down to the nanometer scale, followed by a series of purification steps changing its color from brown to bright white, similar in color and texture to powdered sugar.
After that, he ground salt and magnesium, both very common elements found dissolved in sea water into the purified quartz. The resulting powder was then heated. With the salt acting as a heat absorber, the magnesium worked to remove the oxygen from the quartz, resulting in pure silicon.
“This is the holy grail — a low cost, non-toxic, environmentally friendly way to produce high performance lithium ion battery anodes,” Zachary Favors — a graduate student at UC Riverside’s Bourns College of Engineering, told the website phys.org.
With the new and improved performance of sand properties in a battery, it could mean expanding the expected lifespan of silicon-based electric vehicle batteries up to 3 times or more. For cell phones or tablets, it could mean having to recharge every three days, instead of every day.
A report on the sand-based lithium ion battery research was published in the July 2014 edition of Nature Scientific Reports, authored by Favors, the Ozkans, and graduate students Wei Wang, Hamed Hosseini Bay, Zafer Mutlu, Kazi Ahmed and Chueh Liu.
Now, the Ozkan team is trying to produce larger quantities of the nano-silicon beach sand and is planning to move from coin-size batteries to pouch-size batteries that are used in cell phones.
Patents have been filed for the technology.