The Loh Down On Science

100 things to do with rice just became 101.

You’ve heard of rice pudding. But rice … batteries?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

A grain of rice is born with a hull that’s removed during processing.  And for good reason! Its outer layer is made of silica—the stuff of sand and glass.  Ouch!  Interestingly, the unique structure is peppered with nanoscopic pores.  It keeps pests out but lets moisture and air in.  Turns out, it also makes a great battery part!

Meet Jang Choi from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology.  He figured out how to extract this silica layer as-is.  Then he removed oxygen molecules to turn it into silicon—without changing its holey design.  He plunked the silicon into otherwise normal lithium batteries as electrodes.  They worked!  Previous attempts to use silicon in batteries have fallen flat.  There’s something about the naturally pitted rice-based silicon that makes it work.

Why bother?  Silicon can provide ten times the charge of today’s electrodes. 

The downside?  They might make your iPad display a tad, uh, grainy.  Sorry!

***** For more 90-SECOND SCIENCE FACTS, click here.*****

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, in partnership with the University of California, Irvine, and 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


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