New battery tech will slash charging times and boost EV range before the decade is out

Panasonic's agreement with Sila Nanotechnologies will see the tech company incorporate silicon anodes into its batteries by 2031.  (Image credit: Artur Debat via Getty Images)

A technology that could dramatically increase the range and decrease the charging time of electric vehicle (EV) batteries could soon be in many more cars. The technology swaps the graphite normally used on the negatively charged anodes of lithium-ion EV batteries for silicon.

Panasonic recently announced a partnership with Sila Nanotechnologies, which makes the silicon anodes, to integrate the technology into the company's existing battery production line in 2024.

Related: How do electric vehicle batteries work, and what affects their properties?

Over 14 million electric vehicles were sold in 2023, and their popularity is expected to increase in the coming years. Currently, these vehicles use high-performance lithium-ion batteries. While these batteries are getting better every day, some obstacles still limit their usability and convenience.  

"The capability of a battery to store energy in relation to its size and weight, known as energy density, is a key factor for electric vehicles, as it affects the distance they can cover on a single charge," Azin Fahimi, chief scientific officer at Sienza Energy U.S., who leads a team working on a different silicon anode implementation than Sila is building, told Live Science. "Another crucial aspect is power density, which refers to how quickly a battery can supply energy." 

In other words, if a car can't go very far between charges, that's a nonstarter for many consumers. So why does the new silicon anode have such a dramatic impact on the range and charge time? 

Batteries rely on the movement of charged particles, known as ions, between the electrodes, or two electrical conductors. During charging, lithium ions move from the positive electrode (the cathode), through a conducting solution called the electrolyte, and into the negative electrode (the anode), where they are stored until power is needed. 

"When the battery is providing power to a device, the lithium ions move back from the anode to the cathode," Fahimi said. "This movement of ions allows electrons to flow through the external circuit, generating an electric current that powers the device." 

Because the ions are stored on the anode until they're needed to power the car, the anode material plays a critical role in a battery's performance. 

"A good anode material should possess a high lithium storage capacity to ensure high energy density, good electrical conductivity to facilitate efficient electron flow, [and] fast ion transport for rapid charging capabilities," Fahimi said. The anode also needs a stable structure that doesn't change in volume when ions are flowing in and out of it as this can damage the surface, she added.

Conventionally, lithium-ion batteries have used graphite anodes. The layered structure of this conducting material means ions can move into and out of the anode without it changing much in volume. 

However, due to its chemistry, silicon can hold more than tenfold more energy per gram, Fahimi said.

"This higher capacity means that silicon can store more lithium ions, resulting in a higher energy density for the battery," Fahimi said. "A higher energy density translates to a longer range for EVs on a single charge."

Unfortunately, silicon swells to three or four times its original size when filled with lithium ions, leading to "mechanical stress and eventual degradation of the anode material," she said. 

Therefore, careful nanoscale design of the silicon anode is crucial to overcoming this challenge. In follow-up work, Fahimi's team at Sienza and the teams at Sila are working on solving this problem.

Editor's Note: This story was updated at 10:15 a.m. E.D.T. to correct the material used the battery in one instance; it is graphite, not graphene.

Victoria Atkinson
Live Science Contributor

Victoria Atkinson is a freelance science journalist, specializing in chemistry and its interface with the natural and human-made worlds. Currently based in York (UK), she formerly worked as a science content developer at the University of Oxford, and later as a member of the Chemistry World editorial team. Since becoming a freelancer, Victoria has expanded her focus to explore topics from across the sciences and has also worked with Chemistry Review, Neon Squid Publishing and the Open University, amongst others. She has a DPhil in organic chemistry from the University of Oxford.