There’s an old saying that “luck happens when preparation meets opportunity”. There’s no better example of that than a recent discovery at the University of California, Irvine by doctoral student Mya Le Thai. She accidentally found a way to design a battery that doesn’t lose its charge after hundreds years of use, while she was simply playing around in the University laboratory.
She found that by using a gold nanowire in electrolyte gel rather than lithium, a battery could withstand 200,000 charging cycles and only lose 5% of its capacity. Her discovery could lead to rechargeable batteries that last up to 400 years. This means longer-lasting laptops and smartphones, and fewer lithium-ion batteries accumulating in landfills.
Originally, the researchers were experimenting with nanowires for potential use in batteries, but found that over time, the fragile, thin wires would break down and crack after multiple charging cycles. It was on a whim that Thai coated a set of gold nanowires in manganese dioxide and a Plexiglas-like electrolyte gel.
“She started to cycle these gel capacitors, and that’s when we got the surprise,” said chair of the university’s chemistry department, Reginald Penner. “She said, ‘this thing has been cycling 10,000 cycles and it’s still going.’ She came back a few days later and said ‘it’s been cycling for 30,000 cycles.’ That kept going on for a month.”
Thai’s breakthrough is incredible, considering the average laptop battery lasts 300 to 500 charging cycles. The nano-battery developed at UCI survived 200,000 cycles in three months, meaning it could extend the life of the average laptop battery by about 400 years. It’s a pretty impressive set of figures, especially when you consider it was discovered by pure chance.
Of course, the researchers realized the amount of gold nanowire needed to create this battery would drive up prices, so they suggested nickel could be a substitute for mass production.
Sadly, the nanobattery itself is still very much in the developmental stage, meaning it’s probably a long way from intergration into the commercial market, when it finally does see the light of day it could change the landscape of laptop battery use (and much more) forever.
Source: UCI, www.electronicproducts.com