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Scientists accidentally make batteries that last a lifetime

UCI chemist Reginald Penner holding a battery-operated device. Credit: Daniel A. Anderson / UCI

UCI chemist Reginald Penner holding a battery-operated device. Credit: Daniel A. Anderson / UCI

Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Monday, April 25, 2016, 4:37 PM - California-based researchers have developed a nanowire-based battery material that can be charged hundreds of thousands of times. This could eventually lead to commercial batteries for computers, smartphones, appliances, cars and spacecraft that may never need replacing.

A typical lithium-ion battery has a lifespan between 300 and 500 discharge/charge cycles for commercial products, according to manufacturers.

After that, the filaments eventually grow brittle and crack.

But by coating gold nanowires in a manganese dioxide shell and encasing it in a gel, researchers at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) have managed to make batteries last far longer.

A coated electrode was tested up to 200,000 times over three months without losing any of its capacity or power.  For perspective, charging a battery once a day, 200,000 times, equates to about 547 years of use.

The environmental impact of the technology, if massed produced, could be significant.

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Batteries in discarded electronics continue to pile up due to society's technological demands. While many unused gadgets are recycled, some dead batteries wind up in landfills, which can leak heavy metals like nickel cadmium and lithium into soil and water.

Researchers say the stunning breakthrough can be credited, in part, to a fluke courtesy of UCI doctoral candidate Mya Le Thai.

"Mya was playing around, and she coated this whole thing with a very thin gel layer and started to cycle it," said Reginald Penner, chair of UCI's chemistry department, in a statement.

"She discovered that just by using this gel, she could cycle it hundreds of thousands of times without losing any capacity."

Researchers speculate the gel pasticizes the battery's metal oxide, giving it more flexibility and preventing cracking.

"The coated electrode holds its shape much better, making it a more reliable option," Thai said in a statement.

"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."

Source: UCI


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