Spongy silicon could greatly increase your laptop’s battery life in the near future

Without question, we’d all benefit from longer battery life in our laptops, hybrids, and other portable devices. Unfortunately, the current lithium-ion battery (LIB) has pretty much reached its potential, and the only way to increase the unplugged run time in our portable devices is to make bigger batteries. However, that’s hardly a workable solution in an industry where lighter and leaner gear are highly desirable. We need something new; a way to significantly increase storage capacity without having to make bigger energy storage devices.

Recently, the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory came up with a new twist on the lithium-ion battery that can reportedly store “at least” twice as much energy as a conventional hybrid or laptop battery. In this case, the method entails the use of a sponge-like silicon. Other proposed battery enhancement “breakthroughs” have been made, but they may or may not happen, and are at best years away. However, this one is not only highly plausible, but also relatively painless to deploy.

Why silicon?

Currently, nearly all LIBs use graphite electrodes in the storing and discharging of energy. These conventional LIBs store as little as 10 times less energy than what silicon-based electrodes are capable of. While the mathematical formulas are complex, in a perfect world, a silicon-based battery would then give you 10 times the power supply. However, given everything else that requires consideration, such as battery chemistry, silicon electrodes (sometimes called anodes) can double, or possibly triple energy storage capacity over the current standard.

A problem with using silicon in the past has been that it would absorb far too many lithium-ions (they’re needed to store and help generate power), often expanding as much as 400 percent in mass during charging. This, as you can imagine, caused all kinds of problems, including (but not limited to) fracturing of the battery housing. It was just unworkable—until the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory came up with a silicon electrode dubbed a “mesoporous silicon sponge” that expands by only a viable 30 percent.

In simple terms, mesoporous silicon sponge is a piece of silicon perforated with holes. When absorbing lithium-ions, rather than expanding outwardly, the silicon increases its mass by filling the holes. With the 30 percent expansion limit, the silicon-based electrode contains an energy concentration of around 750 mAh per gram, or roughly twice that of graphite-based electrodes. In addition, the silicon electrodes have proven to be resilient—the prototype battery retained 80 percent of its capacity after 1,000 charges.

When will we see these new batteries?

The Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s next logical step would be to build a bigger prototype—perhaps something large enough to power a mainstream mobile device. Meanwhile, while we wait for the government’s scientists to continue developing the tech, a Silicon Valley startup company by the name of “Amprius” is currently at work developing and commercializing them as well.

Granted, Amprius’ silicon-based lithium-ion energy absorption rates are much lower (only 10-50 percent more energy storage than graphite), but so far the results have been encouraging enough to suggest that silicon very well could play an important role in powering our mobile computing devices – and, perhaps soon.

Product Review

The 2019 Porsche Macan S is a luxurious and quick SUV, but it's no road tripper

The roster of models challenging the Porsche Macan grows annually. The German firm updated its smallest, most affordable SUV with a new engine, more tech features, and subtle design tweaks to keep it looking fresh.

Drink what nature provides with the best water purifiers

Looking for reliable water purification? Staying hydrated is important, especially when you are hiking or camping far from civilization. Check out our picks of the best water purifiers for your camp, backpack, or pocket.

Check out the best Green Monday deals for those last-minute gifts

Black Friday and Cyber Monday have come and gone, but that doesn't mean you've missed your chance of finding a great deal. We're talking about Green Monday, of course, and it falls on December 10.
Product Review

Why spend more? The Yoga Chromebook outdoes most laptops for $600

The Yoga Chromebook features great build quality, a 1080p display, and all-day battery life. All that for $540? That’s right, but there’s one catch.

You’ll soon be able to scribble all over PDFs on your Chromebook

Chrome OS users may soon be able to doodle all over their PDF documents with the possible addition of a new feature in Chrome OS' PDF viewer. The annotation feature is expected to allow users to hand draw or write over their documents.
Virtual Reality

Oculus Rift vs. HTC Vive: Prices drop, but our favorite stays the same

The Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are the two big names in the virtual reality arena, but most people can only afford one. Our comparison tells you which is best when you pit the Oculus Rift vs. HTC Vive.

Canada’s winters inspired a startup to warm homes with cryptomining heat waste

Cryptomining may be the key to untold riches and the future of currency, but it’s also an environmental nightmare. Heatmine, thinks it has the answer, but it could mean bolting a mining rig onto every home and business in the country.

Microsoft’s Windows 95 throwback was just an ugly sweater giveaway

Microsoft's "softwear" announcement wasn't what we had hoped for. Thursday's announcement was not the new line of wearable tech or SkiFree monster sweater we wished for. But it did deliver the 90s nostalgia we wanted.
Home Theater

Confused about LED vs. LCD TVs? Here's everything you need to know

Our LED vs. LCD TV buying guide explains why these two common types of displays are fundamentally connected, how they differ, what to look for in buying an LED TV, and what's on the horizon for TVs.

The best MacBook deals for December 2018

If you’re in the market for a new Apple laptop, let us make your work a little easier: We hunted down the best up-to-date MacBook deals available online right now from various retailers.

How to connect AirPods to your MacBook

If you have new AirPods, you may be looking forward to pairing them with your MacBook. Our guide will show you exactly how to connect AirPods to MacBook, what to do if they are already paired with a device, and more.

Hitting ‘Check for updates’ in Windows 10 opts you into beta releases

Users who are careful about keeping their system updated should watch out -- Microsoft revealed this week that clicking the Check for updates button in Windows can opt you in to testing beta code.
Product Review

The Asus ZenBook 14 is a tiny notebook that gets lost in the crowd

The ZenBook 14 aims to be the smallest 14-inch notebook around, and it succeeds thanks to some tiny bezels. Performance and battery life are good, but the notebook lacks a standout feature other than size.

Secure your Excel documents with a password by following these quick steps

Excel documents are used by people and businesses all over the world. Given how often they contain sensitive information, it makes sense to keep them from the wrong eyes. Thankfully, it's easy to secure them with a password.