Silicon, the new lithium?


Cooler King
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Silicon, the new lithium? | MNN - Mother Nature Network

A new breakthrough may bring silicon-air batteries to market in less than 5 years. Is it time for lithium-ion to step aside?
Sun, Nov 29 2009 at 9:39 PM EST

Image: Technion-Israel Institute of Technology
If it weren't for Bolivia, the electric car industry wouldn't be zipping quite as energetically as it is right now. Lithium carbonate is not an overly abundant mineral and nearly every auto manufacturer is banking on the reserve of lithium that rests quietly in the Bolivian Andes, representing more than one half of the world's supply.

Lithium batteries, while lighter and longer-lasting than then their nickel-cadmium and lead-acid predecessors, are not easily recycled and are prone to problems when they encounter high humidity and heat conditions.

But in one fell swoop, an announcement last week from the Technion-Israel Institute may rather quickly make the lithium-ion battery a thing of the past.

The joint research project led by three scientists professors in three continents â€â€￾ Yair Ein-Eli of Technion, Digby Macdonald of Penn State University, and Rika Hagiwara of Kyoto University â€â€￾ has yielded a working prototype of the battery which dispenses with the typical heavy, metal-based cathode structure and replaces it with something much lighter ... air.

The anode is inexpensive, totally nontoxic and biodegradable â€â€￾ oxidized silicon. The current prototype is not rechargeable but can last for thousands of hours and according to Ein-Eli, a rechargeable consumer battery may be available within five years.

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