Super-Long Lifespan Battery Invented By Scientists

Rechargeable batteries have transformed the technology landscape by powering countless smartphones, tablets and laptops, but they have an inherent problem.

This is because most lithium-ion batteries used today have a limited lifespan, and capacity tends to get progressively worse the more it is recharged.

Longer Life

But scientists in America have apparently solved this problem and claim to have developed technology that can dramatically increase the lifespan of the humble rechargeable battery.

At the moment typical lithium-ion batteries see their capacity to hold a full charge dramatically fall after it is recharged between 5,000 and 7,000 times. This means that there is a finite lifespan to these devices, mostly notably in laptop computers (smartphones tend to be replaced more frequently).

And now researchers at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) have developed nanowire-based technology that greatly increases the battery lifespan, and allows the battery to be recharged hundreds of thousands of times.

Using this technology means that batteries no longer hit a capacity drop off after 7,000 recharges. Indeed the UCI scientists were able to create a battery that went through 200,000 recharge cycles without any loss of capacity or power.

The boffins opted to use nanowires in batteries, which are thousands of times thinner than a human hair. Currently lithium batteries do not cope well with the repeated drain and recharge cycle, and normal nanowires can expand, corrode or grow brittle, which leads to reduced storage capacity.

But nanowires are highly conductive and feature a large surface area for the storage and transfer of electrons. So the scientists solved the degrading nanowire problem by coating a gold nanowire in a manganese dioxide shell and encasing the assembly in an electrolyte made of a Plexiglas-like gel. This resulted in a much more robust solution.

The study leader, doctoral candidate Mya Le Thai, cycled the testing electrode up to 200,000 times over three months without detecting any loss of capacity or power and without fracturing any nanowires. The findings were published in the American Chemical Society’s Energy Letters.

A Youtube video of the breakthrough can be found here.

“Mya was playing around, and she coated this whole thing with a very thin gel layer and started to cycle it,” said senior author Reginald Penner of the paper on the research. Penner is also the chair of UC Irvine’s chemistry department. “She discovered that just by using this gel, she could cycle it hundreds of thousands of times without losing any capacity.”

“That was crazy,” he added, “because these things typically die in dramatic fashion after 5,000 or 6,000 or 7,000 cycles at most.”

“The coated electrode holds its shape much better, making it a more reliable option,” Thai said. “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.”

Of course, the use of gold to coat the nanowires could present a problem due to its cost, but there are alternative cheaper materials such as nickel. Further studies continue.

Battery Development

The ability to improve the performance of modern batteries is a hot topic right now, and it is subject area that is taxing the minds of many scientists and companies around the world.

Last month for example British vacuum maker Dyson said it would invest £1 billion in battery technology over the next five years. It has previously invested in Sakti3, a University of Michigan spin-off that has created solid state battery technology that can potentially store twice as much energy as current-generation liquid-based lithium batteries.

Last year an engineer from Binghamton University in New York state developed a clever battery that copies the principles of Origami, the Japanese art of paper folding. Seokheun “Sean” Choi developed the cheap folding battery made from paper. What is more, the battery is powered by the bacteria found in dirty water.

In March 2013 scientists from the University of East Anglia revealed the efficient generation of clean electricity from bacteria with the development of a “bio-battery”. The proteins on the surface of bacteria produced an electrical current by touching a mineral surface.

A more unpleasant sounding development was the battery from the Bristol Robotics Laboratory. Scientists there created a microbial fuel cell powered by human urine. That battery was able to charge a Samsung smartphone.

Iconic watchmaker Swatch also hope to power wearable technology devices with batteries that should last up to six months. And Israeli startup StoreDot has previously said that its bio-organic battery is capable of charging a smartphone in under 30 seconds.

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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

View Comments

  • "capacity to hold a full charge dramatically fall after it is recharged between 5,000 and 7,000 times".
    What? That's between 13 and 19 YEARS if you recharge once a day. I'm lucky if the battery on my smartphone makes it to 2 years without having dramatically reduced battery life!

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