Published on May 20th, 2014 | by James Ayre


Silly Putty Batteries That Last 3 Times Longer Than Conventional Ones

May 20th, 2014 by  

Lithium-ion batteries that last 3 times longer between charges than is the current industry standard are now a reality thanks to new research from the University of California, Riverside Bourns College of Engineering.

The new way of making lithium-ion batteries — which, humorously, utilizes surgical tubing and one of the key constituents of Silly Putty to great effect — has significant implications for the electronics, battery, and EV industries, according to the researchers.

Silicon polymer and battery used for the research. Image Credit: University of California - Riverside

To explain the work simply — the researchers created silicon dioxide (SiO2) nanotube anodes for lithium-ion batteries, and, after testing, found that the new anodes had more than 3 times the energy storage capacity as the carbon-based anodes currently in wide-scale use.

“We are taking the same material used in kids’ toys and medical devices and even fast food and using it to create next generation battery materials,” explained Zachary Favors, the lead author of the new paper detailing the research. Regarding fast food, he’s referencing this, LOL.

University of California — Riverside provides more:

The team originally focused on silicon dioxide because it is an extremely abundant compound, environmentally friendly, non-toxic, and found in many other products. Silicon dioxide has previously been used as an anode material in lithium ion batteries, but the ability to synthesize the material into highly uniform exotic nanostructures with high energy density and long cycle life has been limited.

There key finding was that the silicon dioxide nanotubes are extremely stable in batteries, which is important because it means a longer lifespan. Specifically, SiO2 nanotube anodes were cycled 100 times without any loss in energy storage capability and the authors are highly confident that they could be cycled hundreds more times.

The researchers are currently working to develop methods to allow for the scaling up of the SiO2 nanotube production process — with the aim of course of commercializing the process.

The new research has been detailed in a paper just published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports. The research was supported by Temiz Energy Technologies.

While on the subject of batteries, with the Gigafactory coming closer and closer to being a reality, the possibility of a car that lasts a lifetime has been a topic that’s been discussed a bit. Every time your battery gets worn down enough that it can no longer hold a charge, the idea is that you can simply replace it but keep the rest of the car.

Of course, with improvements to battery technology, like the one detailed above, such replacements could become less necessary — with times between replacements becoming longer and longer perhaps. Though, such improvements would also allow for the replacement of the battery that you got with your car with a newer one that has greater capacity and thus provides more range. Interesting thoughts.

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About the Author

's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy. You can follow his work on Google+.

  • Brian Setzler

    It’s nice, but all of the usual caveats apply. You can literally say the exact same thing about almost every non-carbon anode out there.

    1. The anode is the lighter electrode to begin with, so it’s the cathode that’s really holding energy density back.
    2. The irreversible capacity loss on the first cycle is huge (57%). In a full cell (real battery), this is permanently lost lithium, so if you simply swapped the typical anode for this new anode, your energy density would go down dramatically.
    3. It’s a half cell. You can cycle electrodes with 98-99% coulombic efficiency in a half cell and claim that there is no capacity loss, but once you stick them into a full cell, you’re losing 1-2% of your lithium per cycle.

    Honestly, I don’t even mean to criticize the researchers. If research was that easy, we’d all be billionaires. But instead of accurately portraying the research, university press offices lie to make it more exciting, and the press eats it up. It’s sad, but I consider corporate press releases to be many times more trustworthy than university press releases.

  • Benjamin Nead

    When the day comes that I can take Silly Putty out of the plastic egg case, press it against a comic strip, peel it off to see the image, stretch it to humorous proportions and THEN plug some wires into it to power something, I’ll know then that I really am living in the World Of Tomorrow.

    Interesting side note: Silly putty was actually invented during World War II as part of research to find a viable substitute for rubber, which was a rationed wartime commodity. It failed in that application, but was revived as toy in the 1950s with great success. Cool stuff.

  • JamesWimberley

    “SiO2 nanotube anodes were cycled 100 times without any loss in energy storage capability and the authors are highly confident that they could be cycled hundreds more times.”
    Hum. Why didn’t they cycle the anodes until they failed? Rush to publication, or rush to patent?

  • “that last 3 times longer between charges than is the current industry standard”

    This is not accurate. The researchers only created anode material. A battery also consists of a cathode, electrolyte, separator and container. All these would need to get 3x lighter to reach a battery that has 3x the energy density of today’s batteries.

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