We like to boast about how ‘smart’ our mobile devices and computers have become – but why are we still powering them with dumb batteries? Amy Prieto, a chemistry professor at Colorado State University, started a company that is created a three-dimensional battery with a core of copper foam. Although it’s still in the very beginning stages of development, this incredibly smart technology could lead to batteries that contain two times more energy and charge in five minutes flat.
Although modern rechargeable batteries make smartphones and GPS possible, they’re still extremely expensive, lose their charge in short order and come loaded with planet-killing toxins. Prieto thinks it’s inexcusable that while our devices have become more sophisticated, our batteries have remained virtually the same for over one hundred years.
The conventional battery surface is two-dimensional, which limits the direction and speed at which energy can flow. Prieto’s new design, being developed by the Prieto Battery Company in conjunction with CSU, adds a new dimension. “It’s just like a sponge, you could think about,” Prieto told Marketplace.org. “Then we paint all the inside spaces with the different materials that you need for the battery. So the ions can go in many different directions, but they don’t have to go very far. So, that’s what I mean by a three-dimensional battery.”
The unique 3D architecture integrates nanowire or copper foam substrate, both of which will have higher power and energy densities than any traditional lithium-ion battery available. According to Prieto, the early stage prototype recharges in a few minutes, discharges slowly, and is manufactured using non-toxic chemicals (it uses citric acid instead of the kind that will burn your skin off).
So unlike today’s rechargeable batteries, which are a win for our gadgets, the 3D sponge battery would also be a win for the planet. The new battery would last 5,000 cycles instead of 500 cycles, the time in between full charge and the need for a recharge. Scaled up for an electric vehicle, the battery could take you 300 miles, and then recharge in less than 10 minutes.
Even though she’s been working on it for seven years, Prieto’s battery is still far from a commercial release. Still, the progress is already promising. Last July Prieto received the Presidential Early Career Award for her work on the battery, and in September 2012, announced that third-party testing had begun.