I have made clear my interest in seeing nanotechnology employed so as to improve the current state of batteries.
Let us make no mistake, nanotechnology, primarily in the form of nanofibers, is being used in batteries today. In fact it was estimated as far back 2005 that nearly 60% of batteries used nanofibers.
But what I am after, and I think your average consumer is looking for too, are rechargeable batteries for our portable devices that will last longer than a few hours (laptops) or a day or two (mobile phones and MP3 players), and instead will last weeks or months on a charge, and also significantly increase the number of times we can recharge those batteries without them progressively getting worse at holding that charge.
So I was intrigued by research funded by DARPA that looked as though it was pushing battery technology a bit further.The results of a portion of that research conducted at UCLA were reported last week at the AVS 57th International Symposium & Exhibition, which was held at the Albuquerque Convention Center in New Mexico, (The abstract of the presentation can be found here).
The UCLA researchers were involved in developing an electrolyte that would be used in batteries the size of a grain of salt and would not only be able to power portable electronic devices but also micro- and nano-scale devices.
To do this the name of the game is working in three dimensions rather than two in order to increase the energy densities but shrink the size of the battery. In this case, with the electrolyte element, the UCLA researchers coated “well-ordered micro-pillars or nano-wires -- fabricated to maximize the surface-to-volume ratio, and thus the potential energy density…”
While the overall DARPA research is still at its early stages, it now has an electrolyte and other components, such as the electrodes, already developed. But nobody at this point has started to join the various components to create an actual battery. So, I’m still waiting.
Dexter Johnson is a contributing editor at IEEE Spectrum, with a focus on nanotechnology.