Plastic Supercapacitor Points To End Of Batteries

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

British boffins may have signalled the end of the traditional battery as we know it, after they developed a composite plastic that can store and release electricity

British scientists at Imperial College London may have signalled the death of conventional batteries after they developed a prototype plastic supercapictor.

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The scientists have created a plastic that can store and release electricity. The prototype designed by the Imperial College London takes five seconds to charge from a normal power supply, and can light an LED for 20 minutes.

Conventional batteries are of course pretty toxic, and users are often frustrated at the limited charge they can hold. The invention could be of interest to laptop designers for example, constantly battling battery life for portable devices. However it could also be used to power a car or even mobile phones and MP3 players.

“Conventional approaches to energy storage include batteries, capacitors and supercapacitors. Batteries have a high energy density, but low power density, due to high internal resistance at high discharge rates associated with the kinetics of the redox process; capacitors offer a limited energy density with a high power density, since the energy is only stored as charge on the electrodes,” said the researchers. “The focuses of our research are supercapacitors, which have a higher specific power than most of the batteries, and specific energy which is significantly higher than conventional capacitor.”

The team said that they have developed a composite similar to plastic, that can store and release energy. Instead of having a conventional battery cell, for example, the actual plastic casing of the device itself, such as a car bumper, or the body of a mobile phone or MP3 player, could act as the battery instead.

The idea of supercapacitors has been around for a while now but this seems to be the first time that a potential commercial use of the technology has been realised.

“We are really excited about the potential of this new technology,” said Dr Emile Greenhalgh, from the Department of Aeronautics at Imperial College London, and the project co-ordinator, quoted on HotHardware. “We think the car of the future could be drawing power from its roof, its bonnet or even the door, thanks to our new composite material.”

“The future applications for this material don’t stop there – you might have a mobile phone that is as thin as a credit card because it no longer needs a bulky battery, or a laptop that can draw energy from its casing so it can run for a longer time without recharging. We’re at the first stage of this project and there is a long way to go, but we think our composite material shows real promise.”