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New silicon-hydrogel composite Li-ion anode material shows long cycle life, easy manufacturability

Schematic illustration of 3D porous SiNP/conductive polymer hydrogel composite electrodes. Each SiNP is encapsulated in a conductive polymer surface. Wu et al. Click to enlarge.

A team at Stanford University has developed stable silicon Li-ion battery anodes by incorporating a conducting polymer hydrogel into the Si-based material. The hydrogel is polymerized in situ, resulting in a well-connected 3D network structure of Si nanoparticles (SiNP) coated by the conducting polymer.

In a paper in the journal Nature Communications, the team, led by Professors Zhenan Bao and Yi Cui, reported demonstrating a cycle life of 5,000 cycles with more than 90% capacity retention at current density of 6.0 A g−1 using this anode. The capacity of a SiNP-hydrogel composite electrode varies from 2,500 mAh g-1 to 1,100 mAh g-1 at charge/discharge rate from 0.3 to 3.0 A g-1.

Capacity profile of composite electrode cycled at various current densities: 0.3, 0.6, 1.0 and 3.0 A g-1. Wu et al. Click to enlarge.

At a charge/discharge current of 1.0 A g-1, the composite electrode exhibited a relatively stable reversible lithium capacity of 1,600 mAh g-1 for 1,000 deep cycles based on the weight of only Si.

The team estimated the volumetric capacity of the SiNP-hydrogel electrode to be ~1,080 mAh cm-3—about double that of a graphite electrode (~620 mAh cm-3).

Silicon (Si) has attracted a great deal of attention as an alternative anode material for Li-ion batteries lately, primarily due to: (1) its high theoretical gravimetric capacity of ~4,200 mAh g-1 based on the Si weight, (2) its relatively low discharge potential (~0.5 V versus Li/Li+), (3) the natural abundance of elemental Si, and (4) its safety and environmental benignity.

However, Si-based anodes also face significant challenges due to the ~400% volume expansion upon lithium insertion in Si; this can result in fracture and loss of electrical contact, and an unstable solid electrolyte interphase (SEI) growth on the Si surface. Recently, exciting progress has been made through nanostructuring of Si...However, synthesis of Si nanostructures usually involves high temperature chemical vapor deposition or complex chemical reactions and/or templates, and their scalability and compatibility with existing battery manufacturing processes remain a challenge.

More recently, electrodes made from Si nanoparticle (SiNP) slurries have been investigated by several research groups as a potentially manufacturing-compatible route...Building on the previous work on polymer binders, here we demonstrate that a unique feature of our approach for realizing this excellent performance is the use of in-situ polymerization, to form a bi-functional conformal coating that binds to the Si surface and also serves as a continuous three-dimensional (3D) pathway for electronic conduction. The in-situ polymerization fabrication technique is quite different from previous studies, where the direct mixing of Si particles with polymer binders produces less conformal coatings and non-continuous electronic transport pathway.

—Wu et al.

Stanford scientists used a battery fabrication process to make novel silicon/hydrogel electrodes. Silicon nanoparticles were dispersed in a solution of phytic acid and aniline in water, followed by the addition of an oxidizer. The aniline rapidly polymerizes and crosslinks, resulting in a dark green viscous gel. The viscous gel was then bladed onto a copper foil current collector and dried to form a uniform film.

This solution-based synthesis method is compatible with roll-to-roll coating methods, the team noted, making this system readily scalable for large area electrode films.

Using a scanning electron microscope, the scientists discovered that the porous hydrogel matrix is riddled with empty spaces that allow the silicon nanoparticles to expand when lithium is inserted. This matrix also forms a three-dimensional network that creates an electronically conducting pathway during charging and discharging.

It turns out that hydrogel has binding sites that latch onto silicon particles really well and at the same time provide channels for the fast transport of electrons and lithium ions. That makes a very powerful combination.

—Yi Cui

The team attributed the stable performance of the composite electrode to to the unique nanoscale architecture:

  • The porous hydrogel matrix has empty space to allow for the large volume expansion of the SiNPs during lithium insertion.

  • The highly conductive and continuous 3D framework, as well as the conformal conductive coating surrounding each SiNP, helps provide good electrical connection to the particles.

  • Although pulverization of larger particles may still occur during lithiation and battery cycling, the fractured Si pieces are trapped within the interconnected narrow pores of the polymer matrix, maintaining good electrical connectivity among fractured particles.

A simple mixture of hydrogel and silicon proved far less effective than the in situ synthesis polymerization technique.

Hydrogel primarily consists of water, which can cause lithium-ion batteries to ignite—a potential problem that the research team had to address. In the final production phase, the water was removed, Bao said.

Although a number of technical issues remain, Cui expresses optimism about potential commercial applications of the new technique to create electrodes made of silicon and other materials.

By taking advantage of the conductive polymer matrix, which provides fast electronic and ionic transfer channels, as well as free space for Si volume changes, we successfully achieved high capacity and extremely stable electrochemical cycling. The electrode can be continuously deep cycled up to 5,000 times without significant capacity decay. Moreover, the solution synthesis and electrode fabrication process are highly scalable and compatible with existing slurry coating battery manufacturing technology.

This will potentially allow for this high-performance composite electrode to be scaled up for manufacturing the next generation of high-energy Li-ion batteries, which are important for applications in electric vehicles and grid-scale energy storage systems that require both low-cost and reliable battery systems. In addition, our described materials design for silicon-based anodes may be extended to other battery electrode material systems that experience large volume changes and unstable SEI formation during cycling.

—Wu et al.

Former Stanford postdoctoral scholars Hui Wu, now a faculty member at Tsinghua University-Beijing, and Guihua Yu, now a faculty member at the University of Texas-Austin, are co-lead authors of the study. Other authors are Stanford visiting scholar Lijia Pan and graduate students Nan Liu and Matthew McDowell.

The research was supported by the Precourt Institute for Energy at Stanford and the US Department of Energy through the SLAC Laboratory Directed Research and Development Program. Additional funding was provided by the Natural Science Foundation of China, the U.S. National Science Foundation and the Stanford Graduate Fellowships Program in Science and Engineering.


  • Hui Wu, Guihua Yu, Lijia Pan, Nian Liu, Matthew T. McDowell, Zhenan Bao & Yi Cui (2013) Stable Li-ion battery anodes by in-situ polymerization of conducting hydrogel to conformally coat silicon nanoparticles. Nature Communications 4, Article number: 1943 doi: 10.1038/ncomms2941



This could become one of the lower cost, higher energy density, longer lasting, deep discharge, winning technology when fully developed.

Will it be mass produced by 2018-2020?



Cui will have to commercialize before 2018 or he will miss his opportunity. There is more than one way to make Si anodes work.


But the idea that there are actually viable paths coming and that it's now a race to production is SOOOO much further than we were even a year ago.


Yes...the race to mass production of improved future batteries will be interesting. The race could last for decades before the real winners come up with superior products in each category.

One thing is certain....by 2020 or so, the world will mass produce improved lower cost EV batteries and by 2030 or so, better batteries will be mass produced etc.

Battery evolution will not stop.

After about 150 years, light bulbs efficiency is still being improved. It went from 10-15 lm/watt to current LED with close to 200+ lm/watt with extend life going for 500 hours to 100,000 hours. Changing light bulbs may become history very soon.

Future improved batteries will last for 10,000+ full charges and/or over the life time (20+ years) of future EVs.


Only one of these electrode formulations has to make it to production to up-end the market.  If the improved electrode only increases battery energy density 50% from 140 Wh/kg to ~200 Wh/kg, that's still just 50 kg for a 10 kWh PHEV pack.  At only 5000 cycles of life, that's 14 years of daily cycles.

Nothing is going to stop this train.

Bob Wallace

5,000 cycles in a 200 mile range EV would be a 1,000,000 mile battery.

77 years at 13,000 miles per year. (Possibly tempered by battery calendar life.)

Roger Pham

Good point, Bob. For that reason, PHEV 20 when charged twice daily, will give more value for the money at this point in time, and the battery pack probably will last the life of the car.

If and when battery will get very cheap, then it won't matter any more, and BEV 200 and BEV 300 will be very popular.

Bob Wallace

I just read something about a LEAF owner putting on 78,000 miles in about two years of driving. His batteries are apparently doing fine.


I think GM has made a comment about Volt batteries holding up better than they anticipated but they didn't provide details.

I suspect much of battery life worry is unfounded.

I would guess that manufacturers made very conservative claims for battery life when coming out the gate. Better to dispense good news later than to be dealing with a lot of unhappy customers and damage your brand.

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