Silicon-Graphene Sandwich Creates Li-ion Batteries with Ten Times Longer Charge Life

Northwestern Univeristy researchers have developed processes for improving the charge life and charging times of Li-ion batteries by a factor of ten

2 min read
Silicon-Graphene Sandwich Creates Li-ion Batteries with Ten Times Longer Charge Life

When the media made a big noise about the concept of a flexible phone that was being considered by Nokia and Cambridge University back in 2008, aptly called the Morph, I asked who needs a phone that wraps around my wrist when what I really want is one that can last a decent amount of time before needing to be recharged.

Since then there has been a fair amount of research attempting to improve the venerable lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery.

The latest comes from researchers at Northwestern University, led by Harold H. Kung, who have developed a method  for sandwiching silicon between graphene sheets in the anode of the battery to allow for greater number of lithium atoms in the electrode.

Silicon has been experimented with for replacing the carbon in the anode of Li-ion batteries since they allow more Lithium atoms to be stored per atom of silicon than that of carbon (four lithium atoms for every silicon atom compared to one lithium atom for every six carbon atoms). However, silicon expands and contracts so much during the charging process that it soon loses its charge capacity.

“Now we almost have the best of both worlds,” Kung said. “We have much higher energy density because of the silicon, and the sandwiching reduces the capacity loss caused by the silicon expanding and contracting. Even if the silicon clusters break up, the silicon won’t be lost.”

Kung and his team also came up with a chemical oxidation process to create nanometer scale holes in the graphene sheets so that lithium ions can find a shortcut through the graphene in the anode, which could quicken the charging times by a factor of 10.

The research, which was published in the Wiley journal Advanced Energy Materials,  expects to build on this initial work that was focused on the anode and move to the cathode.

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Two Startups Are Bringing Fiber to the Processor

Avicena’s blue microLEDs are the dark horse in a race with Ayar Labs’ laser-based system

5 min read
Diffuse blue light shines from a patterned surface through a ring. A blue cable leads away from it.

Avicena’s microLED chiplets could one day link all the CPUs in a computer cluster together.

Avicena

If a CPU in Seoul sends a byte of data to a processor in Prague, the information covers most of the distance as light, zipping along with no resistance. But put both those processors on the same motherboard, and they’ll need to communicate over energy-sapping copper, which slow the communication speeds possible within computers. Two Silicon Valley startups, Avicena and Ayar Labs, are doing something about that longstanding limit. If they succeed in their attempts to finally bring optical fiber all the way to the processor, it might not just accelerate computing—it might also remake it.

Both companies are developing fiber-connected chiplets, small chips meant to share a high-bandwidth connection with CPUs and other data-hungry silicon in a shared package. They are each ramping up production in 2023, though it may be a couple of years before we see a computer on the market with either product.

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