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Researchers have long been investigating the use of silicon in lithium-ion batteries, as it has the potential to greatly increase storage capacity compared to graphite, the material used in most conventional lithium-ion batteries. By some estimates, silicon could boast a lithium storage capacity of 4,200 mAh/g—11 times that of graphite.

However, despite its benefits, silicon comes with its own challenges.

“When you store a lot of lithium ion into your silicon you actually physically extend the volume of silicon to about 3 to 3.8 times its original volume—so that is a lot of expansion,” explained Bor Jang, PhD, in an exclusive interview with R&D Magazine. “That by itself is not a big problem, but when you discharge your battery—like when you open your smart phone—the silicon shrinks. Then when you recharge your battery the silicon expands again. This repeated expansion and shrinkage leads to the breakdown of the particles inside of your battery so it loses its capacity.”

Jang offers one solution—graphene, a single layer sheet of carbon atoms tightly bound in a hexagonal honeycomb lattice.

“We have found that graphene plays a critical role in protecting the silicon,” said Jang, the CEO and Chief Scientist of Global Graphene Group. The Ohio-based advanced materials organization has created GCA-II-N, a graphene and silicon composite anode for use in lithium-ion batteries.

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Category: Science