The ability of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries to store up to eight times more energy than conventional designs is getting a boost thanks to a new conducting material that doesn't break down after repeated usage.
What's more, the manufacturing process is compatible with established technologies, according to researchers with the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California.
Lithium-ion batteries are found everywhere from laptop computers and hybrid cars to electric power grids. The market for them is expected to soar by a factor of more than 80 between 2012 and 2020, rising to $5.8 billion a year, according to a new report from research firm IHS.
That's primarily because the batteries are likely to be integrated with gusto to the so-called "smart grid" that increasingly relies on intermittent technologies such as solar and wind energy. Batteries provide a place to store energy when excess is generated and deliver it when it's needed.
"Because of this, lithium ion is set to emerge as the dominant rechargeable battery technology for electrical smart grids during the coming years," Satoru Oyama, principal analyst for Japan electronics research at IHS, said in a statement.
A limitation of lithium-ion batteries, though, is the amount of energy they are able to store. Researchers have identified silicon as a material that can store 10 times more energy than conventional technology, but it swells more than three times its volume when fully charged then shrinks again during discharge.
This swelling and shrinking, according to the DOE, quickly breaks down the electrical contacts in the anode, rendering the battery ineffective. This sent Gao Liu and colleagues at the Berkeley lab looking for an anode that can stay in contact with lithium-storing silicon particles.
They ended up developing a polymer that does just this. The new anode can absorb eight times the lithium of current designs and, in more than a year of testing and many hundreds of charge-discharge cycles, it hasn't broken down.
The team reports the breakthrough in the journal Advanced Materials.
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- Why batteries die
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- See-through battery in the works
- Building a better battery
- NASA battery know how powers electric cars
John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com.