Humble sand could one day triple the battery life of your smartphone

by: Erik EggersJuly 14, 2014


sand Sam Baid

One of the most frustrating aspects of the modern smartphone is poor battery life, especially for power users. A typical day of usage with my Nexus 5 consists of moderate-to-heavy use, a mixture of browsing the web, watching YouTube videos, using social apps, and listening to music. My Nexus 5 will last me about 8-10 hours before needing to be charged. This isn’t bad, but this isn’t great. I often carry a battery pack with me just in case I need an extra boost in power.

That may change in the near future, if a recently discovered manufacturing technology makes it to commercial deployment.

As reported by Popular Science, researchers at University of California at Riverside developed a technology that could potentially make smartphone batteries last three days, as opposed to one day in the case of the typical batteries of today. The secret is replacing the graphite anode typically used in Li-ion batteries with an anode made of silicon, manufactured through a novel method from common sand.


Left – common beach sand; middle – purified sand; right – nano-silicon created with the new technology

Researcher Zachary Favors came up with the idea to use sand while dipping his toes in the stuff during a day out at the beach. Silicon, one of the main elements in sand, has long been considered for replacing graphite in batteries, due to its ability to store up to ten times as much energy as graphite. However, the challenge was to manufacture pure silicon anodes that are affordable and maintain their structure over time. Silicon anodes normally swell and break apart, but Favors was able to produce a very porous form that resists swelling and has a larger surface, making it suitable for use in batteries.

“This is the holy grail—a low-cost, non-toxic, environmentally friendly way to produce high performance lithium-ion battery anodes,” said Favors in a press release.

The UC Riverside researchers currently have a prototype battery and have patented the technology. If the technology takes off, it could change the way we use our devices and battery life would be less of a concern. Truth is, however, that we’ve been promised better batteries for years, with new technologies that promise to dramatically improve battery life emerging regularly. In most cases, commercial deployment is many years away, and that’s in the best case. It remains to be seen if this new technology is any different.

  • Adrian

    Left – common beach sand; left – nano-silicon created with the new technology

    Either it has Schröders cat properties or maybe one should be right.

  • Jack Parker

    Like the author said, we’ve been promised for years. But I really do hope this becomes a hit

    • MasterMuffin

      Probably by 2020 :/

  • Shark Bait

    Well I hear unicorn poop will give 100x battery life !!

    • MasterMuffin

      They’d use it but it’s too expensive !!

  • AsakuraZero

    so what about graphene batteries?

    • Brett Dickstein

      There’s no cost efficient way to make graphene…yet. But companies are pouring in millions into their research facilities to fix that.

  • Brett Dickstein

    I don’t see why this one would be ignored. It’s already cheap and can be mass produced according to the article, so why would companies ignore these findings? I know graphene is another great source, but it’s not cost efficient at all yet for companies to use. This sounds like exactly what companies want.

  • Omegaclawe

    Hell, if it’s that good, when they start putting it in Tesla’s the Model S will get 750 miles per charge. Think of how awesome that would be.