Nanowires have long been planned to be a part of tomorrow’s lithium ion batteries. Although thousands of times thinner than human hair, they’re still highly conductive and have a large surface area, which means more place to store and transfer electrons.
However, at the same time nanowires are extremely brittle and when integrated into batteries, they don’t bear many charge-discharge cycles. After a while they crack and the battery loses capacity or outright dies in your laptop/electric car/phone etc.
Mya Lei Thai, a doctoral candidate at the University of California at Irvine (UCI) discovered a way to make the nanowires less brittle. She found out that by coating a gold nanowire in a manganese dioxide shell and encasing the assembly in an electrolyte made of Plexiglas-like gel, the nanowires are much more resistant to cycling.
Compared to old battery recipes, this one held a charge and didn’t lose capacity even after being charged and discharged for 200,000 times over a period of three months. Previous experiments only held up to 7000 cycles.
The explanation given by the researchers was that the gel plasticizes the metal oxide in the battery, which makes the nanowires virtually indestructible.
What could this mean for the average user? Well, I don’t know if this invention is on the liking of the consumeristic era we’re living, because it could spell batteries that last a lifetime, electric cars that don’t need their batteries replaced and so on. On the other hand, the adoption of this technology by Tesla’s Gigafactory could yield a need for standardization so that only a few types of batteries exist for phones or cars, and they need to be interchangeable.
It could also mean batteries will be far less expensive and we’ll all forget what gas smells like in 20-30 years.
Pictures (c) Steve Zylius/UCI