I have the power! Imagine never having to buy new batteries. With Americans tossing out more than 3 billion or 180,000 tons of batteries a year, it’s a win-win situation for the consumer and the environment. Well, a team of researchers from the University of California Irvine (UCI) have discovered the secret of battery longevity – by complete accident!
Nanowires are really thin wires- they’re thousands of times thinner than a human hair. The smaller an object is, the greater its surface area to volume ratio (imagine an orange, if you slice it in half, its surface area has gone from just the skin to the skin and its fleshy exposed interior). Thus, nanowires can be bundled together to provide a really large surface area for electron transfer and storage in a petite package. The problem with this cutting-edge tech is that it “only” lasts 5,000 recharge cycles – a typical Lithium ion battery in your electronic device lasts about 500 cycles FYI.
University doctoral candidate Mya Le Thai coated gold nanowires with a manganese dioxide shell and the entire package with a “plexiglas-like” electrolyte gel. The results were astonishing.
“Mya was playing around, and she coated this whole thing with a very thin gel layer and started to cycle it,” said chair of UCI’s chemistry department, Reginald Penner. “She discovered that just by using this gel, she could cycle it hundreds of thousands of times without losing any capacity.”
Thai cycled it 200,000 times over three months, without losing any power or capacity. The nanowires did not seem to show any signs of the usual wear and tear that come with such abuse.
“The coated electrode holds its shape much better, making it a more reliable option,” Thai says. “This research proves that a nanowire-based battery electrode can have a long lifetime and that we can make these kinds of batteries a reality.”
These new batteries could last longer than us – maybe instead of passing down silly trinkets embedded with carbon crystals, we could look forward to passing down the literal reservoir of our power.