Battery technology has been identified as one major obstacle holding both phone and car technological advancement back. In phones, processors are getting more powerful, displays brighter and chips more battery-intensive. But, all of these advancements are subject to how much fuel the phone’s battery can provide, and how long. In the same way, the high cost of fuel has made alternate modes of powering cars a very attractive proposition. However, here too, battery capacity is too low to make the switch away from petrol or diesel a no-brainer. But there is progress being made, thankfully, and a new breakthrough at Stanford University stands to give battery technology a much-needed fillip. Now, the problem with high-capacity batteries is that they are prone to physical damage—cracks and fractures. This renders their effective life much lower than it should be. Researchers at Stanford, however, have managed to create self-healing silicon batteries that greatly extend this lifespan. Basically, the battery’s negative electrode combines silicon with polymers which, as the researchers described it, act as chemical zippers. That is, they heal cracks in real time, without the battery being removed or replaced.
The reason silicon was chosen was because it has a higher storage capacity than normal lithium-ion batteries—and now its fragility seems to also be fixable. Previously, according to the researchers, silicon batteries could be discharged and recharged only about 10 times before breaking down. These self-healing ones can deal with around 100 such cycles. This is still far from the 500 cycles for a cell phone and 3,000 cycles for an electric vehicle, but it is nevertheless a breakthrough that brings those targets far closer than before.