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New teeny-tiny battery charges in less than a second

A lithium ion micro-battery out of the University of Illinois is just millimeters in size, can jump-start a car battery, and recharges in less than a second. It's not ready for market just yet, though.

Ions flow between three-dimensional micro-electrodes in a redesigned cathode and anode.
Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology

One of the biggest bugbears of smartphones is just how much juice they drain -- and how long they take to recharge. Batteries are also the reason many devices can't be smaller; after all, the batteries have to fit somewhere (although, given the burgeoning phablet market, that's not exactly a huge problem).

Scientists have made several recent attempts to build a better lithium ion battery. In the latest push, a team of researchers led by mechanical science and engineering professor William P. King at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign has developed a new type of lithium ion battery that's just a fraction of the size of the batteries we use now -- and that can out-power the best supercapacitors.

They have done this by redesigning the cathode and anode -- these are the positive (cathode) and negative (anode) poles of the battery. In a traditional battery, these poles are solid. In the University of Illinois' battery, these poles have been redesigned to be fast-charging porous three-dimensional microstructures.

"Our key insight is that the battery microarchitecture can concurrently optimize ion and electron transport for high-power delivery," the researchers say in a paper titled "High-power lithium-ion micro-batteries from interdigitated three-dimensional bicontinuous nanoporous electrodes" and available in Nature Communications.

Simply changing the structure this way gives the battery a power density equal to or greater than that of supercapacitors, and 2,000 times higher than that of other micro-batteries. It also means that the battery can charge up to 1,000 times faster than competing technologies.

They're not quite ready for the market just yet, though. At such a tiny size, they will be difficult to integrate with current devices, and manufacturing costs are a little on the high side. But the development could mean interesting things for the future.

"Now we can think outside of the box," said James Pikul, a graduate student and an author of the paper. "It's a new enabling technology. It's not a progressive improvement over previous technologies; it breaks the normal paradigms of energy sources. It's allowing us to do different, new things."

(Source: Crave Australia)