Beach Sand Used To Make A Battery That Lasts Three Times Longer

Charge your phone with that white stuff from the beach

Beach sand, on the left, and purified sand in the middle. The right image shows vials of the former two, and a third made up of nano-silicon used to make the battery.Scientific Reports

Sink your toes into this: Beach sand can be used to make lithium-ion batteries that last three times longer than current models, according to a study published in the journal Scientific Reports.

"This is the holy grail: a low-cost, non-toxic, environmentally friendly way to produce high performance lithium-ion battery anodes," said Zachary Favors, a graduate student at UC Riverside, in a statement.

The idea came to Favors when he was sitting on the beach after surfing, and realized the material was made up of a high percentage of quartz, or silicon dioxide. Typically the negative side, or anode, of lithium-ion batteries are made with graphite. Silicon has been eyed as a replacement material, since it can store about 10 times more energy--only it's difficult to produce in large quantities and degrades quickly. But perhaps the silicon in sand could provide a cheap, abundant source of silicon.

After finding a reservoir of sand with an even higher fraction of quartz, in Texas, Favors processed it in the lab, as described by Gizmag:

[Favors] ground salt and magnesium into the purified quartz and heated the resulting powder. In this very simple process, the salt acted as a heat absorber while the magnesium removed oxygen from the quartz, resulting in pure silicon. More than that, the pure nano-silicon formed in a very porous, 3D silicon sponge-like consistency. Porosity is one of the keys to improving the performance of battery anodes as it provides a large surface area and allows lithium ions to travel through them more quickly.

The researchers have filed patents for the technology, and used it to produce a coin-sized lithium ion battery. The technology would allow phones to last for about three days on one charge, as opposed to the current average of about one day per charge, according to the business newspaper Mint. Let's hope this technology turns out to be as exciting as it sounds.