Algae inspiration could boost your phone's battery

Thanks to 'hierarchical porous carbon spheres'

Materials engineers trying to work out a way of boosting the performance of lithium-ion batteries have hit upon an unlikely inspiration - algae from a local pond.

In nature, single cells of algae can grow to huge sizes. Now, a team at Singapore's Agency for Science, Technology and Research has developed a new type of battery component out of carbon that mimics the way that single-celled algae forms, and early testing shows a solid improvement on traditional batteries.

"In nature, a great number of microorganisms, like diatoms, can assemble biominerals into intricate hierarchical three-dimensional architectures with great structural control," said Xi Li, who heads up the research group that made the discovery.

Scaling Up

Li and his team examined how the algae forms, then used a similar process to develop tiny carbon spheres that act as a battery's anode. When compared to normal lithium-ion cells, the new batteries showed high reversible capacity, good cycling stability and high-rate performance.

"The carbon spheres can only be prepared on a laboratory scale, however, we are optimizing the synthetic conditions to scale up fabrication," said Li. "We envisage that batteries composed of these anode materials could be charged faster than those fabricated using conventional carbon materials."

The team's research has been published in the journal Chemistry of Materials.