Tiny is big in the quest to build batteries that store more energy for cars, buildings, and personal electronics. In the global race to create more efficient and long-lasting batteries, some are betting on nanotechnology – the use of minuscule parts – as the most likely to yield a breakthrough.
Improving a batteries’ performance and reducing it’s size is key to the development and success of many much-hyped technologies, from solar and wind energy to electric cars and our mobile devices. They need to be smaller, hold more energy, last longer, be cheaper and safer. Research into how to achieve that has followed several avenues, from using different materials than the existing lithium-ion batteries to changing the internal structure of batteries by using nanoparticles – parts so small they are invisible to the naked eye (some 80,000 times thinner than a human hair ). And so, it has come to our attention that nanotechnology can increase the size and surface of batteries electrodes, the rods inside the batteries that absorb the energy. It does so by effectively making the electrodes sponge-like, so that they can absorb more energy during charging and ultimately increasing the energy storage capacity.
Prague-based company HE3DA is on this cutting edge and has developed such a technology by moving from the current flat electrodes to making them nano three dimensional. The latest breakthrough is a “nanopore” technology that’s the ultimate in miniaturization. It’s a hole in a ceramic sheet, no thicker than a grain of salt, that contains all the components a battery needs to produce electric current. One billion of these holes, connected in a honeycomb fashion, could fit on a postage stamp. This itty-bitty battery can be fully charged in 12 minutes, recharges thousands of times, and power one of our mobile devices according to University of Maryland researchers. And so, with prototypes undergoing successful testing, researchers hope to have the battery on the market at the end of this 2016. With that in mind, this technology will be first targeted at high-intensity industries like automobiles batteries and the energy sector, rather than mobile phones.
As more and more electric vehicles find their way onto the roads, more efficient batteries are crucial if cars are to increase their driving range, which is currently limited compared with what fossil fuels can provide. Also to there seems to be a big push toward renewable energy where more powerful and efficient batteries are needed to store the energy created by solar panels or wind farms and so this type of nano technology can help further that. While it took two decades to bring the initial lithium-ion battery to the market, the current focus on energy storage-combined with the benefits of nanoscience-may expedite that process to between 5 and 10 years. With that in mind, I would estimate in our lifetime you will see this nano battery technology trickle down to our mobile devices where you will tend to see them fully charge in less than 10 mins and keep their charge for weeks instead of days.
CNET – Next Big Thing – Where will the next battery breakthrough come from?