1801: Alessandro Volta presents his invention — the battery — to Napoleon. Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty.

One of the most confounding areas of research is the battery, a technology that, while invented more than two centuries ago, is still frustrating scientists. But amid robust electric-car competition pitting the U.S. against Germany, China and other nations, researchers say their hopes are growing for a breakthrough.

Driving the news: One of the companies that has attracted much attention is Sila Nanotechnologies, an Alameda, Calif., startup that claims to have figured out how to build a working silicon anode, one of the two electrodes that make lithium-ion batteries work.

Why it matters: A breakthrough using silicon would pack much more energy than the standard graphite anode. The problem with silicon, however, is that it expands dramatically in use, shattering the battery.

What they did: Sila says it has solved this problem and raised battery performance by 20% over current commercial rivals.

  • Gene Berdichevsky, Sila's CEO, tells Axios that the company's anodes still swell, but that the structure of the electrode absorbs most of the expansion.
  • "We solve this by compensating for it in the particle structure (creating room for its expansion correctly)," he says.

What's next: The anode will undergo its first commercial test in consumer devices next year, Berdichevsky adds.

Be smart: A significantly better battery is still years ahead. Even companies such as Sila that claim to have resolved a fundamental technical roadblock say they will need to try out their batteries first in small devices, not electric cars.

A further reason for caution: The most-discussed startups, including Sila, aren't fully revealing the data behind their claims. In the past, this was a red flag for batteries that were more ideas than commercial breakthroughs.

Go deeper

Commission releases topics for first presidential debate

Moderator Chris Wallace. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Fox News anchor Chris Wallace has selected what topics he'll cover while moderating the first presidential debate between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden next week.

What to watch: Topics for the Sept. 29 debate will include Trump and Biden's records, the Supreme Court, COVID-19, economic policy, racism and the integrity of the election, the Commission for Presidential Debates announced on Tuesday. Each topic will receive 15 minutes of conversation and will be presented in no particular order.

Fed chair warns economy will feel the weight of expired stimulus

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Fed Chair Jay Powell bump elbows before House hearing on Tuesday. Photo: Joshua Roberts/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell told the House Financial Services Committee on Tuesday that the expiration of Congress' coronavirus stimulus will weigh on the U.S. economy.

Why it matters: Powell warned that the effects of dried-up benefits are a looming risk to the economy, even if the consequences aren't yet visible.

53 mins ago - World

Beijing draws Chinese companies even closer

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Chinese Communist Party Secretary Xi Jinping announced last week that the party must strengthen its leadership over private companies, and that entrepreneurs must meet the party's needs. 

Why it matters: Xi's new announcement will increase fears that Chinese businesses may serve as a Trojan horse for the CCP.

Get Axios AM in your inbox

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!