There was a time when budding inventors were advised to build a better mousetrap. Nowadays, they’d do rather well to build a better lithium-ion battery. These are what power our phones, laptops, portable power tools, an increasing number of cars, even homes. Some places are turning to giant lithium-ion batteries to store energy from solar panels so that it can be used after dark. While lithium-ion cells have gotten incrementally better over the years, they seem set for a big boost in 2019 through the increased use of an element not unfamiliar to the electronics industry: silicon.
The reason lies in some fundamental electrochemistry. Lithium-ion cells work by sending lithium ions from the positive electrode (in a battery, it’s called the cathode) to the negative electrode (the anode) during charging. During discharge, lithium ions move in the opposite direction, from anode to cathode. So charging such a battery amounts to storing lithium in the anode. If your battery could store more lithium, it would store more energy.