The February 2023 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

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Nanoscale Analysis of Rechargeable Batteries Pinpoints Cause of their Demise

Finding the cause may lead to a solution for making li-ion batteries last longer

2 min read
Nanoscale Analysis of Rechargeable Batteries Pinpoints Cause of their Demise

It is my fervent belief that nanotechnology’s ability to push the lowly battery to new heights will be one of the field’s biggest achievements in the not-too-distant future. Sure expanding the water supply and better harvesting the sun’s energy are no doubt big achievements. But from a very personal level, I want my cell phone, MP3 player and laptop to last a lot longer on charge than they currently do.

To this end, researchers at Ohio State University, in cooperation with both Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the National Institute of Standards Technology, have thrown just about ever microscopy tool in the arsenal to sort out why rechargeable lithium-ion batteries begin to lose their ability to hold their charges.

Researchers Bharat Bhushan, Suresh Babu and Lei Raymond Cao first started with infrared thermal imaging of each electrode and soon progressed to using scanning electron microscopy, atomic force microscope, scanning spreading resistance microscopy, Kelvin probe microscopy, transmission electron microscopy all to get different length scale resolutions. (This various length scale issue is a big one as I have pointed out before. While we are working out making batteries, let’s see if we can’t get an equivalent to Google Earth for microscopy tools.)

What they discovered was that “the finely-structured nanomaterials on these electrodes that allow the battery to rapidly charge and discharge had coarsened in size.”

They also found out with neutron depth profiling that most of the lithium was no longer available for charge transfer. Now the researchers have not yet connected the coarsening of the nanomaterials on the electrodes with this loss of lithium, but their future research may establish this connection.

In terms of real-world applications the article cited above points to this research enabling a faster rollout of electric cars. Electric cars? I would like my iPod to hold a charge for longer than 30 minutes after owning it for a couple of years.

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Two Startups Are Bringing Fiber to the Processor

Avicena’s blue microLEDs are the dark horse in a race with Ayar Labs’ laser-based system

5 min read
Diffuse blue light shines from a patterned surface through a ring. A blue cable leads away from it.

Avicena’s microLED chiplets could one day link all the CPUs in a computer cluster together.

Avicena

If a CPU in Seoul sends a byte of data to a processor in Prague, the information covers most of the distance as light, zipping along with no resistance. But put both those processors on the same motherboard, and they’ll need to communicate over energy-sapping copper, which slow the communication speeds possible within computers. Two Silicon Valley startups, Avicena and Ayar Labs, are doing something about that longstanding limit. If they succeed in their attempts to finally bring optical fiber all the way to the processor, it might not just accelerate computing—it might also remake it.

Both companies are developing fiber-connected chiplets, small chips meant to share a high-bandwidth connection with CPUs and other data-hungry silicon in a shared package. They are each ramping up production in 2023, though it may be a couple of years before we see a computer on the market with either product.

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