With lithium ion batteries, it used to be that you would have to choose between power and storage capacity. But researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have proven that it is possible to have the best of both worlds with their new microbattery. Led by William P. King, the team published their results in the journal Nature Commincations this week. Their technology could enable radio signals that could be broadcast 30 times farther and create devices 30 times smaller. The amazing new battery is able to be charged 1,000 times faster than rival batteries, and it’s about 2,000 times more powerful than its competitors.
The scientists were able to create such an astonishing increase in efficiency by building a fast-charging cathode (plus side) alongside a similarly constructed anode (minus side). Using a three-dimensional microstructure, they begin by coating a surface with tiny spheres, arranging them in a lattice. They then fill the remaining space with metal and melt the spheres, leaving a porous 3D composition that resembles a sponge. A process called “electropolishing” uniformly etches away the scaffolding making the pores larger. The frame is then coated with the active material, making a bicontinuous electrode that that has small interconnections that allow lithium ions to move quickly with good electrical conductivity.
“This is a whole new way to think about batteries,” King said. “A battery can deliver far more power than anybody ever thought. In recent decades, electronics have gotten small. The thinking parts of computers have gotten small. And the battery has lagged far behind. This is a microtechnology that could change all of that. Now the power source is as high-performance as the rest of it.”
The battery could very well be the most powerful in the world, and has the potential to also be the smallest. Researchers are beginning to integrate their developments with current technology and working on reducing the cost of manufacture. Imagine being able to power up a credit card-sized phone in around a second or charging a personal medical device without the need for wires. The future of personal electronics is coming, and it looks small and strong.