Koreans claim 1,000 km range using silicon in Li-ion batteries

Brainiacs from South Korea’s Pohang University of Science and Technology (Postech) have discovered a way to maximize the potential for using silicon in lithium-ion batteries for electric cars. As a result, their next-generation battery packs increase the maximum range by 30%, up to 1,000 km, and keep costs down. Has the home country of Hyundai and Kia discovered a game changer?

In battery technology, silicon is regarded as the secret sauce. It packs ions like a pro because it holds charge well. However, making it work has been like solving a Rubik’s cube.

Professor Soojin Park, the Ph.D. student Minjun Je, and Dr. Hye Bin Son from Postech claim to have cracked the code with a battery that uses micro silicon bits and a gel that holds it together. Their work hit the headlines in the latest issue of Advanced Science (January).

Micro instead of nano

Silicon is a promising material but tricky. When it charges and discharges, it’s like it’s doing a workout, bulking up and then slimming down, which messes with the battery’s stability. Conventional batteries use graphite, which stores ten times less lithium ions but that has evolved hardly for three decades.

The Postech team chose micro-silicon over its tinier nano cousin, which is easier on the wallet and packs a heavier punch, energy-wise. Also, nano-silicon is very hard to manufacture and exuberantly expensive.

Micro-silicons, conversely, imply dealing with more of that size change issue, or increased expansion, during charging. That’s where the scientists applied a new move by putting gel polymer electrolytes into play.

These keep everything stable, so even with bigger silicon particles, the battery maintains its cool, charges hassle-free and lasts longer. It’s regarded as a much more efficient and safer alternative to the liquid electrolytes used in today’s batteries.

Ready to roll out

Compared to these first-generation lithium-ion packs that power current EVs, the efficiency improvement hovers around 40%. As these packs follow the lithium-ion route, production can be built up from current gigafactories.

This embodies a significant advantage to the daunting production challenges of solid-state packs promising a similar range. However, as charging times, which are drastically shorter for solid-state, remain unmentioned, these are most likely on par with current packs.

This breakthrough could be essential in the race for a high-density lithium-ion battery that battles cost and range. According to its makers, the innovation is ready to roll out, meaning we might soon see these super batteries powering up.

Postech isn’t a lone rider in the field of silicon-based batteries. General Motors has teamed up with OneD Battery Sciences for a comparable project, and the Mercedes EQG launching next year will also offer a battery with silicon technology.

However, these are all nano types. Tesla mixes a small amount of silicon in its current range of lithium-ion batteries to boost range. The start-up Amprius unveiled promising tests with its nanowire trick for lithium-ion batteries but eyes the aviation market.

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