The pomegranate is nutritious, delicious, and its unique design could be a key ingredient in super-powerful rechargeable lithium-ion batteries.
Beautiful and tasty, the pomegranate is also a powerful superfood. The benefits of pomegranate juice are almost as plentiful as the seeds contained under its thick, pink skin. Now new research has shown that a healthy heart, happier stomach, and stronger skin and hair aren’t the pomegranate’s only life-improving benefits.
According to a study out of Stanford University, the way pomegranate seeds are clustered together within the fruit’s rind provided an important clue for inventors looking to design the next generation of lithium-ion batteries.
“Silicon anodes could store 10 times more charge than the graphite anodes in today’s rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, but they also have major drawbacks: The brittle silicon swells and falls apart during battery charging, and it reacts with the battery’s electrolyte to form gunk that coats the anode and degrades its performance,” explain researchers at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, a joint effort of Stanford and the DOE.
An electrode designed like a pomegranate – with silicon nanoparticles clustered like seeds in a tough carbon rind – could allow battery developers to overcome these remaining obstacles, and finally pave the way for silicon based lithium-ion batteries.
Yi Cui, the lead researcher on this project, has spent the better part of a decade working on a way to encase silicon nanoparticles in carbon ‘yolk shells’ that give them room to swell and shrink during charging. Just like the pomegranate’s skin protects the seeds within, these carbon rinds hold the nanopartical clusters together and provide a sturdy highway for electrical currents.
“Experiments showed our pomegranate-inspired anode operates at 97 percent capacity even after 1,000 cycles of charging and discharging, which puts it well within the desired range for commercial operation,” said Cui.
This means that batteries built to mimic the pomegranate could hold 10 times more charge than a standard rechargeable lithium-ion battery, an improvement that could revolutionize the smartphone industry as well as all the other wireless gadgets that depend on battery power.
Now that they’ve demonstrated the pomegranate battery’s power storage potential, Cui and his team have to tackle new challenges, like a simpler process and a cheaper source of silicon nanoparticles. They say one possible source of silicon could be found in rice husks, a common type of inedible food waste.
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Image: Migle Seikyte