Batteries of the Future
The batteries of the future may be printed on a sheet of paper, or maybe worn as clothing. They might even be made out of thin air.
With more electric and hybrid automobiles on the horizon, along with the growing demand from portable electronic devices, the future of the battery business has never been brighter. Here are some recent advances in battery technology.
At Stanford University, Scientists are using advanced technology to make batteries out of everyday paper.
Yi Cui, assistant professor of materials science and engineering, says he’s been able to coat a sheet of paper with ink made of carbon nanotubes and silver nanowires. The result is a highly conductive storage device – a battery – that’s lightweight and bendable. And although it’s made out of paper, Cui says the battery is very durable.
“The paper supercapacitor may last through 40,000 charge-discharge cycles – at least an order of magnitude more than lithium batteries,” he says.
Cui’s research doesn’t stop at paper. His team took a similar carbon nanotube ink and used it to dye fabric. After coating the fabric, they put it in the oven to dry. Cui says the team has found that the fabric-batteries work even better than the ones made out of paper.
For example, a one-ounce strip of the so-called eTextile, about the same weight as an average T-shirt, can hold up to three times more energy than a cell phone battery. And, it’s durable.
“You can wash it, put it in all kinds of solvents – it’s very stable,” says postdoctoral scholar Liangbing Hu, who leads Cui’s eTextile research team.
So far, the researchers have only used black ink, but Cui says other colors are likely possible.
The Air is Electric
In Utah, a private-equity firm is funding a project that would turn underground caverns into giant batteries for storing energy produced by wind farms.
The caverns, dug out of salt deposits deep below the Utah desert, would store energy in the form of compressed air. Utility companies could release the air later to turn turbines and create electricity.
The underground batteries are still years away from coming online, according to the company, Magnum Energy LLC. They hope the caverns will be a solution for storing renewable energy until people need it.
Advances in Lithium
The future of automobile batteries – particularly those used in electric vehicles – may be made of lithium. Currently, lithium-ion batteries are popular for personal electronics such as mp3 players and laptops, because they’re lightweight and tend to hold their charge when not in use. Now, automakers are hopping on the bandwagon, too, investing in several new lithium-ion battery plants for their next generation of electric vehicles.
Currently, lithium-ion batteries are effective for about 1,000 charge-recharge cycles. Japanese firm Eamex announced in February that it has discovered how to make lithium-ions last longer – up to 10,000 recharges over 20 years. Eamex is focusing the technology on electric vehicles and hopes to have a working example this year.