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.

Emerging Tech

Autonomous ships are coming, and we’re not ready for them

Cars may dominate today’s discussion about the future of autonomous transportation, but some of the world’s largest maritime companies are betting big on autonomous shipping.
Mobile

Amazon Kindle vs. Kindle Paperwhite: Battle of the budget ebook readers

Two ebook readers enter, one ebook reader leaves. It's a thunder dome showdown for the 2019 Amazon Kindle and the 2018 Kindle Paperwhite. Find out what sets these devices apart and which one will suit you better as we compare them.
Mobile

Amazon Kindle Oasis vs. Kindle Paperwhite: Which ebook reader is best for you?

If you're in the market for a new ebook reader, then Amazon may well be your first port of call, but which model should you choose? We compare the Kindle Oasis and the Kindle Paperwhite here and explain the differences to help you decide.
Photography

Get your photos off your phone and on your PC with these tips

If you haven't already, you should back up your photos to a computer. Here's how to transfer photos from an Android phone to a PC using third-party services and a wealth of storage devices.
Computing

The Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 gets a $140 price cut before Prime Day

We’ve already gathered some pre-Prime Day MacBook deals, but if you’re not a fan of Apple, this MacBook Surface Laptop 2 discount is worth a look. Though there will likely be more Prime Day laptop deals coming down the pipeline.
Computing

TrickBot returns with new attack that compromised 250 million email addresses

TrickBot returns with a new attack that teams up the malware with a module dubbed TrickBooster. An investigation into TrickBooster's servers discovered a database with 250 million compromised email accounts.
Deals

Walmart Prime Day sale: 4K TV, iPad, and Nintendo Switch Deals

Amazon Prime Day 2019 is here, and thousands of deals are already live. Of course, we should have known Walmart wasn't just going to sit back and let Amazon bask in the glory of its own Prime Day deals.
Deals

Early Prime Day deals: MacBook, 4K TV, AirPods, and Apple iPad discounts

Prime Day 2019 is coming fast and great early deals pop up every day. We've been tracking the hottest categories including smart home devices, 4K TVs, laptops, and headphones pulling out the best deals.
Deals

The Apple iPad Pro gets a huge $175 discount for Walmart’s Prime Day sale

Whenever online retailers battle for supremacy, shoppers usually win. And that's definitely the case with Walmart's iPad deals going on right now. If you're in the market for a 10.5-inch iPad Pro, you can pick one up with a $175 discount.
Deals

HP offers up its own sweet deals on Spectre x360 laptops for Prime Day 2019

Prime Day doesn't just mean Amazon's having a huge sale for its Prime members. Other companies like HP are offering their own deals and discounts. In fact, check out HP's current sale on its Spectre x360 laptops.
Deals

Best Prime Day Apple deals: iPad, MacBook, and AirPods discounts

Prime Day is officially here, and there are still some nice Apple deals to be had during Amazon's big event. We’ve rounded up iPads, Macbooks, and more, along with a quick and handy guide detailing what Apple deals you can expect to find.
Deals

Best Prime Day Apple deals: iPads, MacBooks, and Apple Watches

Prime Day is officially here, and there are still some nice Apple deals to be had during Amazon's big event. We rounded up a few right here, along with a quick and handy guide detailing what Apple deals you can expect to find.
Deals

The Eero Pro Wi-Fi system is $200 off in early Amazon Prime Day deal

Amazon Prime Day is a fine time to upgrade your home Wi-Fi system. Now, Amazon Prime members only can secure an early Prime Day deal on a mesh network wireless router, with the Eero Pro Wi-Fi system now just $299.
Smart Home

Amazon cuts prices on Google Wi-Fi mesh network router for Prime Day

Amazon cut prices on Google Wi-Fi mesh wireless network devices for Prime Day 2019. Google Wi-Fi systems mesh network routers are expandable. If you use a conventional router and want faster Wi-Fi, these deals can help you save.