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Nanowires to enhance battery life

Nanowires to enhance battery life

The nanowires before (left) and after (right) charging. Both images were taken at the same magnification.

Researchers at Stanford University have unveiled a new battery design using teeny nanowires constructed from silicon. Aside from the predictable bonus points that comes from having the prefix 'nano' in the title, the technology promises to store ten times as much energy as existing lithium ion batteries can.

Yi Cui, assistant professor of materials science and engineering at the university, claims the new design is a “revolutionary development” capable of turning a current two-hour laptop battery into a twenty-hour behemoth without increasing size or weight. Which certainly has me interested.

Traditional lithium ion (Li-Ion) batteries use an anode constructed from carbon which holds the lithium when charged. Silicon is capable of holding much more lithium than carbon, but has the irritating (and possibly explosive) habit of swelling when charged and shrinking when discharged. This cycle of growing and shrinking causes the silicon to break down, eventually killing the battery.

The research promises a solution to the problem via everyone's favourite buzzword: nanotechnology. By forming the silicon into a 'forest' of nanowires the material is able to grow and shrink without fracturing. Candace Chan, one of Cui's graduate students and a driving force behind the new technology, claims previous problems in developing silicon-lithium batteries were purely down to “the shape they were using.”

Cui has filed for a patent on the technology, and is currently looking for a battery manufacturer to help bring the devices to market. I for one will certainly be first in the queue for a battery that can finally drive my laptop for a full working day.

Tempted by a twenty-hour laptop, or is the thought of so much energy stored in such a small place giving you the heebie-jeebies? Discharge (ho-ho) your thoughts via the forums.

15 Comments

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<A88> 20th December 2007, 13:47 Quote
Would be nice to see this technology in commercial use sooner rather than later- as with a lot of R&D, we keep hearing about new technology that's meant to improve the performance of devices but very few have made it into actual products. These sort of improvements will hopefully see some proper convergence devices made feasible- 3G, GPS, WiFi, high-res cameras etc all in one device without sucking battery life like a digital Dracula. Tbh, I'd welcome more than 2hrs battery life on my lappy so this'll be a phenomenal breakthrough if it happens.

<A88>
Jordan Wise 20th December 2007, 14:22 Quote
sounds awesome, now if only they could crack wireless charging using induction the world would be perfect
Cuban 20th December 2007, 15:02 Quote
great news!! i would be happy with anything more than 4-5hours (generally how long i use my laptop for in the evenings)... 20hours could nearly last me a week!!!
C-Sniper 20th December 2007, 15:26 Quote
SWEET!
definitely gonna keep an eye on this. even right now if you get 4-5hrs out of a laptop battery that is considered lucky. neat technology as well, who thought a forest of nano tubes of silicon would be able to do this?
speedfreek 20th December 2007, 15:31 Quote
I wonder if the charge time is any different, If it takes the same amount of time to charge and you can get the same number of charge/discharge cycles out of it or more this would be really nice.
TreeDude 20th December 2007, 15:35 Quote
No mention of life span. Considering that was the main reason we don't currently use it, I wonder how much they improved it.
sgr55 20th December 2007, 16:51 Quote
Your storing more energy in 1 place.... what happens if 1 of these were to um... explode?
Bladestorm 20th December 2007, 18:27 Quote
It can be applied well beyond laptop batteries I'm sure, being able to carry 10x the power about opens up all sorts of possibilities .. viable laser weapons anyone ?
Awoken 20th December 2007, 21:24 Quote
For PPC's and UMPC's this could be a breakthrough technology that allows for faster processors better and graphics processing on the move. I'm thinking of a HTC TYTN II with a combined 1Ghz cpu and gpu with 2-3 days battery life. What a ppc that would be!
DXR_13KE 20th December 2007, 23:18 Quote
mobile phones..........
The_Beast 20th December 2007, 23:25 Quote
sweet, I'd like to see this on laptops soon
MrBurritoMan 21st December 2007, 05:15 Quote
looks like anything that requires mobile power could benefit greatly from this. not only can devices at their current size last longer but they can now make devices smaller and still get more power than what we can do today.

im eagerly watching where this goes.
OleJ 21st December 2007, 17:30 Quote
Then finally the N95 could have same battery life as all other phones! Whooo!
broutcha 21st December 2007, 19:57 Quote
I liked the "wireless charging using induction", "what happens if 1 of these were to um... explode", "viable laser weapons anyone ?" :-)

Seriously guys, what you're talking about would requires *much* more than a 10x improvement, which is pretty huge already. That would definitely be a major breakthrough, especially for miniaturization. The battery size was one of the major bottlenecks in the future developpment of mini mobile devices.
DXR_13KE 21st December 2007, 20:32 Quote
and what about mobile game consoles......
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