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USA: Better Batteries: Wrap It in Seaweed

MIT’s Technology Review reported last September that researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Clemson University had formulated a way to keep silicon anodes in lithium batteries from cracking under the strain of expending and contracting while they charge and discharge. They added a “binding agent and food additive derived from algae” that is in turn derived from seaweed. This enables the anode to charge and discharge at an eight times greater rate than an equivalent carbon anode without breaking down, a common problem for “raw” silicon.

Environmentally friendly, the manufacturing processes for this type of anode are claimed to be clean and inexpensive.

According to the Technology Review, “Lithium-ion batteries store energy by accumulating ions at the anode; during use, these ions migrate, via an electrolyte, to the cathode. The anodes are typically made by mixing an electroactive graphite powder with a polymer binder—typically polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF)—dissolved in a solvent called NMP (N-Methylpyrrolidone). The resulting slurry is spread on the metal foil used to collect electrical current, and dried.”

Seaweed already lives in an electrolyte

Swapping silicon for the graphite allows the anode to hold more ions and therefore make more power or store more energy. Silicon particles can swell to four times their original size, though, and can put cracks in the PVDF binder, ruining the effectiveness of the battery. A paper in Science by Gleb Yushin from Georgia Tech and Igor Luzinov of Clemson University explains that the seaweed alginate doesn’t crack and creates “a stable silicon anode” that demonstrates, “eight times the capacity of the best graphite-based anodes.”


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