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Saturday, April 27, 2013

Recent Breakthroughs in Battery Technology

One of the biggest limitations on various technologies--mobile electronics and electric vehicles come to mind--have been batteries. However, there are a couple recent breakthroughs that may make batteries more powerful, faster to recharge, and less expensive.

First, microbatteries:
A team of scientists from the University of Illinois, Urbana said on Tuesday that it had created lithium ion “microbatteries” that have an energy density 2000 times greater than existing microbatteries and equal to today’s “best supercapacitors.” This was accomplished by condensing and combining components on a microscale with what the researchers call “bicontinuous interdigitated microelectrodes.”

In plain English: “This is a whole new way to think about batteries,” said lead researcher William P. King. “A battery can deliver far more power than anybody ever thought. In recent decades, electronics have gotten small. The thinking parts of computers have gotten small. And the battery has lagged far behind. This is a microtechnology that could change all of that. Now the power source is as high-performance as the rest of it.”

The researchers say that another practical benefit is extending the range of radio signals (such as those used in some consumer electronics) 30 times farther. Other applications include medical devices, lasers and sensors. A cell phone battery would be powerful enough to jumpstart a car, so jumper devices could become dramatically smaller.
Second, some advances in lithium-sulfur batteries:
A team at Cambridge University has developed a breakthrough battery which could double the life of mobile devices - and make them cost less.

The new batteries are able to hold twice the energy of current generation lithium-ion batteries.

Up to 40% of the the cost of current batteries is taken up by the positive electrode - the cathode - which is normally made of lithium and a metal oxide, usually cobalt, manganese or nickel.

The Cambridge team instead used a composite of sulphur and nanostructured carbon for the electrode.

By doing so they were able to dramatically cut the cost - and achieve double the energy density.

"Using sulphur instead of the materials currently used in lithium-ion batteries could substantially reduce production costs, as sulphur is a fraction of the cost of other materials," said Dr Can Zhang, one of the developers of the material.


"Additionally, compared with conventional lithium-ion batteries, the carbon-sulphur electrodes achieve double the energy density per unit of weight."

The new cathodes are made by growing a "forest" (their word) of carbon nanotubes on a layer of metal foam.
 More here.

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