Inventors joke about building “a better mousetrap,” but these days, it’s a better battery that everyone actually wants. Researchers at the University of California, Irvine have made a breakthrough that could lead to just that. Using gold and some new-fangled materials, the team built a nanowire battery that maintains its performance after hundreds of thousands of charging cycles. Compared to existing lithium-ion battery technology, this could shift the future of energy storage forever – and the whole thing was discovered on accident.
Rechargeable lithium ion batteries slip in performance over time, after being charged and recharged hundreds of times. This is why a brand new cell phone battery will last all day, but after a year, you’re lucky to get through the day without dipping into the red zone. The nanowire-based battery material developed at UCI endured a three-month testing period and emerged with flying colors. Compared to the 5,000 to 7,000 charges a lithium ion battery can withstand before dying out, the nanowire-based battery was charged 200,000 times in three months and didn’t show any loss in power capacity.
What’s more, this amazing battery passed the test without any damage to the nanowire. Engineers have long wanted to incorporate nanowire technology into battery systems, but the fragile nature of the wire made it impossible. The UCI team created special, protected electrode nanowires using a thin core of gold, surrounded by layers of manganese dioxide and a Plexiglas-like electrolyte gel. Senior author and UCI chemistry chair Reginald Penner said the innovation is “crazy,” compared to the performance of existing lithium ion batteries.
Study leader and UCI doctoral candidate Mya Le Thai conducted the testing, and remarked about the flexible strength of the combination of materials. “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.”
Researchers were looking for a way to increase capacity, and stumbled across the answer on accident. “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.”