Away, graphite: batteries with silicon anodes pose a revolution in wearables, mobiles and electric cars
The scientist They have been promising us revolutionary batteries for years. They present a study or research and embellish it with data that seems to promise that we will finally have a better alternative to today’s lithium-ion batteries. Then comes the fine print, which typically tells us that those advancements will take years to become available on a large scale. Many links and many promises but we are still there, waiting.
This is precisely what has changed a bit with Sila Nanotechnologies, a company that does seem to have its particular battery revolution in sight. To achieve this they have made a singular change (although already known) in the traditional lithium-ion batteries: They have replaced the graphite of the anode with silicon, and that has many, many advantages.
A technology that has been in development for years
Gene Berdichevsky was one of Tesla’s first employees, and was charged with overseeing the development of the batteries that would be used in his first electric cars. This engineer left Tesla to found a company with Jagdeep Singh, an entrepreneur who, like him, it was clear to him that it was necessary to invest in better batteries. “We wanted to take the technology further,” Berdichevsky explained in The New York Times.
Those entrepreneurs founded Sila in 2011, and they expected to take five years to develop that revolutionary battery technology. They have taken twice as long, but the result is one of the most promising of those that have been seen and could have a real impact in all kinds of areas.
Batteries with silicon anodes they are not in fact new: we talked about them in October 2019, when they were implemented in the Xiaomi Mi MIX Alpha, and a year earlier Huawei had also proposed lithium-silicon batteries that allowed to improve the fast charging of their smartphones.
It seems, however, that Sulla has a certain advantage here and has finally managed to find the exact silicon composition that allows it to be used at the anode without the disadvantages of this material – which is quite unstable and expands in volume when loaded – are present.
First in wearables, then perhaps electric cars
In Sila they have teamed up with WHOOP, a wearables manufacturer that has just launched its new WHOOP 4.0 quantifying bracelet. He has done so presuming that the size of this device is 33% smaller than its predecessor thanks precisely to the battery developed by Sila Nanotechnologies.
According to Berdichevsky the use of silicon instead of graphite in the anode allows achieve a density of up to 20% higher, which means that it is possible to use a smaller battery to achieve the same autonomy, or to free up space to integrate other components in the device.
Sila’s technology is important because silicon it is the second most abundant element in the earth’s crust after oxygen, but also because the application of this technology is not limited to wearables.
In fact the greatest potential for that silicon anode developed by Sila could be in the electric car market: you could make smaller cars without sacrificing their autonomy, or have cars like the current ones in terms of size, but whose batteries would offer even more kilometers to travel on a charge.
In Sila, yes, they are cautious: these improvements will also take some time to arrive: they expect their technology to be massively available in the second half of the decade. They are already dedicating a large part of the investment they have received to increase their production capacity of these batteries, but that will take time, although we will see this technology in other devices soon, they say.
What is likely is that these advances will end up making other competitors with more resources end up developing their own batteries with silicon anodes (or maybe they end up buying Sila’s technology). Watch out, graphite, silicon is coming.