A ‘Powerful’ Casing
Researchers at The Imperial College, London, have come up with a revolutionary new battery material that could be used for constructing the body of the device itself. The entire casing of the device acts as a battery. Patented by Imperial, this new material was developed in conjunction with Volvo. Imagine if your entire car could be used as a battery, imagine if your laptop’s body was a battery, imagine if your phone’s case supplied it with power. There are two advantages to this. The first is that you can get your devices to last longer on battery power. The second is that the size of the device itself can be reduced since the need for a large battery compartment is eliminated. The material is lightweight and flexible yet strong enough to hold its own against impact.
In recent years, nanotechnology has been all the rage. The University of Maryland’s Nanocenter has developed solutions to store the energy coming from alternative energy sources much more efficiently than today’s batteries can. This new battery technology makes use of electrostatic nanocapacitors–billions of microscopic, nearly identical nanostructures. Electrostatic capacitors store charge on the surfaces of two conductors. They can produce high power and recharge fast, but at the expense of energy density. These new batteries using nanotech, however, eliminate the last disadvantage. Multiple such cells, as thin as solar panels, can be stacked inside a traditional car battery enclosure yielding much more power for a longer time.
Until recently, ultracapacitors could only store a limited amount of energy for a limited time. Of late, researchers have found a new manufacturing method that alleviates the situation. First, an array of carbon nanotubes is grown on a foil made from the metal tantalum. Then, there are 100-nanometer-wide flower-shaped nanoparticles directly on the array. These nanoflowers have a surface area of 236 square meters per gram. The carbon nanotubes help transfer electrons quickly between the manganese-oxide nanoflowers and the tantalum foil. The disadvantage here is that the method is expensive and not yet suitable for mass manufacturing.
A month ago, Stanford materials scientists Liangbing Hu, Hui Wu, and Yi Cui fabricated ultra-thin rechargeable lithium-ion batteries on a single sheet of paper. With a thickness of 300 micrometers, it consists of a solid support with a thin film of carbon nanotubes, on which is deposited a film of a metal-containing lithium compound. The nanotubes act as current collectors, the lithium layers serve as electrodes, and the paper separates the electrodes while providing the overall structure with mechanical support. This process, repeated on both sides of ordinary paper, yields thin, flexible cells with high energy density that don’t degrade within a few charge cycles.
An innovation like this new battery technology can lead to a slew of paper-thin devices such as touch-enabled OLED screens to display your daily newspaper, minuscule sensors, paper wrappers that can analyze when the food material inside is no longer edible, and other such items.
Low Weight Batteries
MIT’s materials science professor Yet-Ming Chiang’s research has given rise to new battery tech from a company called A123 Systems and its spin-off, 24M. In most modern car batteries, half the weight arises from supporting materials that help draw out the power. The new battery technology combines the best features of flow batteries and fuel cells which do not suffer from this drawback. The new battery avoids their respective disadvantages, though not much else has been revealed except that it uses a semisolid material and thus stores much larger amounts of energy than even a lithium battery.
The actual devices, expected to be relatively less expensive, will hit the market in 2015 if work proceeds as planned, and they will revolutionize vehicular battery technology.
Imperial College, London (battery)
American Chemical Society (nano flower)
Yi Cui/Stanford University (battery)
A123 Systems (battery pack)