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Chemists create organic battery tech

Chemists create organic battery tech

The research hinges on chloride ions, pictured in green, which can be removed to reverse the electron flow.

It's been a good week for battery technology, with researchers at Stanford University announcing a prototype ultra-thin battery based on a sheet of paper, and now the University of Texas at Austin has pitched in with research that could lead to new high-powered organic batteries.

A team of chemists at the university, lead by Christopher Bielawski and Jonathan Sessler, have discovered a method for passing electrons back and forth between two molecules. The team believes that this research could be used to create ultra-efficient organic batteries that could power smartphones for a week - or even a month.

Traditionally, the exchange of electrons between molecules result in a combination which forms something new - but Sessler and Bielawski's work has resulted in molecules which Bielawski describes as "spring-loaded to push apart after interacting with each other," preventing a new substance from forming.

A chemical switch which Bielawski claims allows the electron transfer to proceed in either direction, described by research partner Sessler as "the first time that the forward and backward switching of electron flow has been accomplished via a switching process at the molecular scale," holds the key to future organic battery technology.

The technology that would go into such a battery, and the lack of heavy metals in its creation, means a future portable power source which is lighter, more energy-dense, safer, more environmentally friendly, and cheaper to produce than current lithium-ion cells - and which could be formed into any shape to accommodate ergonomic or design choices.

The team's research has applications in the field of solar power, too: forming what the university claims is "a necessary step" on the way to producing energy via artificial photosynthesis in the same manner as plants.

Sadly, the work remains at the research level for now, with neither the team nor the university willing to hazard a guess on when commercialisation of the technology is likely.

Are you looking forward to a future where smartphones are ultra-slim, or have ultra-long battery lives - or won't you be happy until you can have both? Share your thoughts over in the forums.