Nanowire battery breakthrough could bring an end to replacing dead packs


posted Friday, April 22, 2016 at 2:23 PM EDT


Are you fed up with replacing dead rechargeable batteries for your camera gear? How about the battery in your smartphone or tablet? Odds are good that these weren't even designed to be replaceable, making the swap to a new battery an even more painful and expensive experience. But now, those days could soon be at an end thanks to new research at the University of California, Irvine.

UCI researchers, led by doctoral candidate Mya Le Thai, have invented a new lithium-ion battery material based around nanowire filaments that could prove to be a game-changer for the battery industry. For the last decade, a lot of time and effort has been poured into research aimed at replacing the graphite anode found in typical batteries with nanowires formed from various materials. These incredibly thin filaments are thousands of times thinner than a human hair, giving them much greater surface area that potentially allows for greater energy density, faster charging and greater current delivery.

UCI video announcing the new nanowire battery technology.

The problem, thus far, has been that these nanowire filaments are incredibly fragile, leading to batteries that could at best be recharged a few thousand times before they failed completely. But while playing around with a Plexiglas-like gel and a gold nanowire filament in a manganese dioxide shell, Le Thai discovered that her creation could be recharged hundreds of thousands of times.

That's something on the order of a 30-fold improvement over existing tech, an improvement that's believed to come thanks to the metal oxides in the battery plasticizing in the presence of the gel, preventing them from cracking. And even more promisingly , Le Thai's creation also showed no detectable loss of capacity or power after 200,000 recharge cycles in a three-month period.

UCI's Mya Le Thai with a prototype nanowire battery

Findings from the UCI research were published a couple of days ago in the American Chemical Society publication Energy Letters. For those of you with a technical bent, the article "100k Cycles and Beyond: Extraordinary Cycle Stability for MnO2 Nanowires Imparted by a Gel Electrolyte" is available free of charge online, and gives a very detailed rundown of the research.

There is, of course, no guarantee that the research will see the light of day in commercial products any time soon. If it does, though, it has the potential to be a revolutionary change -- and not just for your camera gear or smart devices. Potentially, just about anywhere that batteries are used could see benefit from the technology if it proves suitable for commercial use, whether that's in handheld gadgetry, road vehicles, or perhaps even spacecraft.

We'll be watching this story for more news with our fingers very tightly crossed!

(UCI News via Computerworld)