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.

Michelle Starr Science editor
Michelle Starr is CNET's science editor, and she hopes to get you as enthralled with the wonders of the universe as she is. When she's not daydreaming about flying through space, she's daydreaming about bats.
Michelle Starr
2 min read
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)