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A Better Way to Build a Lithium Ion Battery?

A startup spun out of Northwestern University called SiNode Systems is building a lithium ion battery using a piece of graphene drilled with tiny holes. The unusual structure can boost the amount of energy that a battery’s anode can hold by tenfold and can also enable the battery to be charged much more swiftly than conventional lithium ion batteries.

While the Evanston (Ill.)-based startup is only a year old, it has made some substantial progress this year, and this month SiNode Systems won over $900,000 in the Rice Business Plan Competition. The startup is now working on raising an additional $1.5 million to bring its technology out of the lab, Guy Peterson, director of commercialization and manufacturing at SiNode, says.

SiNode Systems is building on research developed by Northwestern Professor Harold Kung, whose work focuses on the use of a composite of silicon nanoparticles and graphene for the anode part of a battery. A battery is made up of an anode, a cathode, and an electrolyte in between, with electrically charged lithium ions flowing between the anode and the cathode to discharge or charge the battery.

SiNode’s core intellectual technology involves creating a porous structure in the graphene to speed up the movement of electrons between the anode and the cathode and to stabilize the silicon, creating a sort of scaffolding around it. Silicon swells and contracts quickly and can fall apart easily without a supporting structure.

Lithium ion batteries on the market today typically use graphite for the anode. For the cathode, cobalt oxide is commonly used for consumer electronics, while other compounds such as iron phosphate and manganese oxide are also found in electric cars and power tools.
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