A significant breakthrough in battery technology occurred recently when a doctoral student at the University of California at Irvine made a stunning discovery. Mya Le Thai helped her team working at the Department of Energy on nanostructures for electrical energy storage develop a new model for rechargeable batteries. Using the innovations she stumbled across, manufacturers will enjoy the ability to use batteries that will recycle many thousands of times, not simply a few hundred times.
The discovery holds significant implications for many consumer products, ranging from automobiles to computer devices. In fact, the ability to create batteries capable of withstanding extended use may hold very far-reaching consequences indeed. Manufacturers of robotic products, biotech researchers, nanotechnology manufacturers and many other emerging industries may obtain benefits as a result of this breakthrough.
A Battery Resembling Human Nerves
Mya Le Thai apparently stumbled upon the new battery, although in structure the very intricate battery somewhat resembles human nerves coated with axons. Her research team had endeavored to replace lithium in batteries with ultra-thin gold wires, a form of nanotechnology. The gold wires provide a larger surface area for electrical activity because of their extremely thin, tiny size. Thousands of times smaller than a single human hair, the nano-gold wires appear visible under a microscope. They have not previously obtained widespread use in manufacturing because of the extreme fragility of these structures.
Mya Le Thai decided to cover the gold nanowires in a solution of manganese oxide, and then coat them in a gel-like substance resembling plexiglass. Her innovation produced a much sturdier wire with the capability to re-charge for extended periods of time without breaking. Just like an axon sheath surrounding a human nerve, the plexiglass gel furnishes a more secure coating to protect the interior.
A Surprising Yet Fortunate Development
Dr. Reginald Penner, the Chairman of the Chemistry Department at the University of California at Irvine, hailed the new discovery during an interview with the magazine Popular Science. He admitted that the research team did not “understand the mechanism” for the extended life of the new battery. Batteries manufactured using the new technology will recycle for a considerably greater number of times, potentially enabling the production of a new, more durable, type of battery.
The research team had sought to develop a solid-state battery that, unlike a lithium battery, would not become as easily subject to heat-damage during use. Researchers had encountered difficulty replacing lithium with the frail gold nanowires.
A Welcome Innovation
The breakthrough may eventually help solve problems with existing battery technology. Although ongoing research has endeavored to improve batteries for many years, the new discovery will lead to more durable, lighter weight batteries, perhaps even batteries that recharge faster. The research will undoubtedly excite many developers of high tech products.