How rice could one day power your smartphone

Tori Floyd
Photo by: getty
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Ah, rice: food staple enjoyed by billions of people around the world every day. And according to a recent report, it could soon be used to help power your cell phone.

Not the edible part of the rice, mind you: about 20 per cent of the total weight of all rice is its inedible husk, Wired reports. Researchers have found a way to recycle those husks and use them to make silicon for batteries.

In a study published with the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, researchers say they believe there is a way to convert the silica layers found in rice husks and convert it to silicon, which can then be used in high-capacity lithium battery anodes. The researchers say that the structure of the rice husks gives it “excellent electrochemical performance as a lithium battery anode,” the study’s abstract states. By applying heat and acid to the husks, the silica can be extracted, and then converted into silicon.

Up until now, the waste husks have largely been used to make bricks or fuel cooking stoves, but one of the study’s researchers, Jang Wook Choi, says that the conversion of the husks into silicon for batteries shouldn’t take away from these other purposes.

“The economics of it I think is going to be doable,” Choi said in a Wired story. “The total amount required for batteries is much smaller than the amount of rice husks generated during de-seeding. So the supply is going to be much greater than what is required for silicon batteries.”

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According to TIME, more than a hundred million tons of husks are piling up every year, which means there are plenty of extra husks available to be used for this purpose.

Unfortunately, the odds of your next smartphone having this battery are low. Despite the ideal nanostructure of the silica in rice husks, silicon isn’t yet an ideal replacement for graphite anodes in lithium-ion batteries. Dalhousie University battery scientist Jeff Dahn pointed out, according to TIME, that silicon-anode batteries degrade the lithium-ion solution inside faster than the typically used graphite-anodes. But researcher Yi Cui, who wrote a similar paper in late May that arrived at the same rice-husk-as-silicon-source finding, remains optimistic about the future.

“The purpose of these papers was to find a low-cost silicon source,” said Cui in a TIME story. “Certainly the battery data could be better if we spend more time on it.”

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