Researchers Accidentally Invent A Battery that Lasts Forever
Accidents’ happening in labs is not a good thing. But, what if that accident yields an unexpected result leading researchers to a system that could make batteries last up to 400 times longer than the best-performing batteries today?
Researchers from the University of California, Irvine have accidentally made a battery that can last up to 200,000 cycles of recharging and can last up to 400 times longer. This discovery could bring us closer to batteries that can be charged thousands of times, without the need for any replacement.
The original idea of the research was to create a solid-state battery by replacing the common liquid in the lithium batteries with a much thicker electrolyte gel, according to their study published in the journal ACS Energy Letters. They also substituted the lithium in the batteries with gold nanowires for electric storage.
“We started to cycle the devices, and then realized that they weren’t going to die,” said Reginald Penner, a lead author of the paper. “We don’t understand the mechanism of that yet.”
The Irvine battery technology uses a gold nanowire, no thicker than a bacterium, coated in manganese oxide and then protected by a layer of electrolyte gel. The gel interacts with the metal oxide coating to avoid corrosion. The longer the wire, the more surface area, and the more charge it can hold.
“[The gel] does more than just hold the wire together. It actually seems to make the metal oxide softer and more fracture-resistant. It increases the fracture toughness of this metal oxide that is doing the charge storage,” Penner said.
The UCI nanobattery was tried out in test conditions over a three month period, producing a “94-96% average Coulombic efficiency,” according to the researchers. No loss of capacity or power and fracturing of any nanowires was recorded by the test.
UCI doctoral candidate Mya Le Thai was the one who made the accidental invention a reality when she coated a set of gold nanowires in manganese dioxide, then applied a, “Plexiglas-like,” electrolyte gel. These nanowires usually degrade after limited use, as their fragility causes them to crack during charge and discharge loads. However, when the researchers at UCI tested Mya’s versions, they found they were almost entirely intact and ready for further use.
“Mya was playing around, and she coated this whole thing with a very thin gel layer and started to cycle it,” said Penner. “She discovered that just by using this gel, she could cycle it hundreds of thousands of times without losing any capacity.”
“That was crazy, because these things typically die in dramatic fashion after 5,000 or 6,000 or 7,000 cycles at most,” he said.
The researchers suspect that the gel caused the metal oxide in the battery to plasticize, providing its nanowires new-found flexibility and longevity to the battery.
“The coated electrode holds its shape much better, making it a more reliable option,” Thai said. “This research proves that a nanowire-based battery electrode can have a long lifetime and that we can make these kinds of batteries a reality.”
If new found technology is applied to present consumer electronics, it can create a battery that can last 400 times longer than the common lithium batteries. But, the UCI nanobattery is still in its development stage, and it will still be a long time before it is made commercially available. However, once it is available, it could make a major difference to computers, smartphones, and appliances in the market in terms of providing power to the devices.
The study was conducted in coordination with the Nanostructures for Electrical Energy Storage Energy Frontier Research Center at the University of Maryland, with funding from the Basic Energy Sciences division of the U.S. Department of Energy.
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