Prof. Joel Schindall
and his team at M.I.T.
are making advances in the lifespan of batteries. A little science news found in a Boston Globe
piece today, MIT research may spell end for the battery
The researchers are working on a new device that uses carbon nanotubes to store and release electrical energy in a system that could carry as much power as today's lead or lithium batteries.
This new technology also has the advantage of being recharged in about the same amount of time as filling a gas tank. A battery that recharges itself in a few seconds and might never need replacing!
It won't fix the energy crisis tomorrow. According to Joel Schindall ``I think that in five years, you could see limited use." Also, the only place that automobiles are mentioned is in the byline of the news piece but it does sound like a major break through.
The research is looking at something very different from a battery. A good old fashioned capacitor
. This component that dates back to 1745
is being improved through nanotechnology;
During the 1960s, scientists discovered that they could make more powerful capacitors by coating their electrodes with finely ground charcoal -- a form of carbon. The charcoal crystals greatly increased the surface area of each electrode, allowing it to collect a greater electrical charge.
Since then, scientists have learned how to grow carbon nanotubes -- extremely thin fibers of pure carbon. Schindall and his colleagues realized that millions of tiny nanotubes would do a much better job than ground charcoal in expanding an electrode's surface area. And if the nanotube-coated electrodes were made large enough, you could build a capacitor that could work like a battery with enough power to drive a device for hours.
Science Central Video News does list some interesting long term applications;
This technology has broad practical possibilities, affecting any device that requires a battery. Schindall says, "Small devices such as hearing aids that could be more quickly recharged where the batteries wouldn't wear out; up to larger devices such as automobiles where you could regeneratively re-use the energy of motion and therefore improve the energy efficiency and fuel economy."
Schindall thinks hybrid cars would be a particularly popular application for these batteries, especially because current hybrid batteries are expensive to replace.
And some ecological advantages;
Schindall also sees the ecological benefit to these reinvented capacitors. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, more than 3 billion industrial and household batteries were sold in the United States in 1998. When these batteries are disposed, toxic chemicals like cadmium can seep into the ground.
"It's better for the environment, because it allows the user to not worry about replacing his battery," he says. "It can be discharged and charged hundreds of thousands of times, essentially lasting longer than the life of the equipment with which it is associated."
For a more technical explanation, click this link.