The secret to boosting longevity of lithium-ion batteries is crushed silicon powder, according to research from Rice University. Experts have long sought to incorporate silicon into rechargeable batteries — anodes made of silicon can hold up to 10 times the number of lithium ions held in traditional, graphite-based anodes. But when used this way, silicon expands during the charging process only to shrink once unplugged; these frequent shifts in size ultimately cause it to quickly break down.
That presents a problem when the goal is to build long-lasting batteries like those found in electric vehicles. Experts at Rice had previously attempted to solve this by stamping pores into silicon film, allowing more room for that growth in volume. But manufacturing issues (i.e. a lack of scalability) hindered that solution so the team decided to crush the porous silicon into powder form. The increased surface area lets silicon absorb an increased total of lithium ions and manufacturers shouldn't have nearly as much trouble incorporating the powder mixture into their development process. "The material is very simple to synthesize, cost-effective and gives high energy capacity over a large number of cycles," said researcher Madhuri Thakur.
Researchers at Rice are still in the early testing phases of their research so you're not likely to see the fruits of their labor in your next hybrid. Still, ultimately it could represent major advancements in battery tech, a field which isn't exactly moving along at a rapid clip.