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Batteries Witness Accidental Breakthrough: End of Battery woes?

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Once upon a time I wrote an article about the woes of battery in the current tech world and how it has been a bottleneck for the growth of Electronic smart devices. Then I rewrote on the issue. It seems like my prayers have been heard. At least in small measure.

As I have mentioned time and again, the next revolution won’t be the screen size or the processors, it has to be something else. Galaxy Note’s S-Pen is one such example. A flexible display might be another. Sony has recently launched Xperia Z and Xperia Tablet Z both of which are waterproof. About time too!

None of them though would be more of a ‘killer’ feature than a battery life of a week.

Imagine a gadget that gets discharge because you forget that it is supposed to be charged of an hour in a week. Sounds amazing, isn’t it. Of course that is why it is hypothetical.

The current battery system has multiple problems. Some, which are already coming to notice and others will come in due course of time. The first one is of course the capacity. The current batteries are almost maxed out in the amount of charge they can store. This means that unless the size of battery is increased we cannot increase its capacity.

The second problem is that the Li-Ion or Li-Po batteries are non-flexible for most part. The dream of a flexible display or flexible gadgets is not possible until this issue is resolved.

UCLA researchers seems to have (accidentally) found answers for these problems. Rishard Kraner, a professor in California Nanosystems Institute at UCLA along with a student in his lab Maher El-Kady have developed a unique method that can change the whole battery universe.

What’s the Break-through?

Energy-storage can be done in two forms – Batteries and Capacitors. While the predominant form is a battery, capacitors can also play a very useful role.

Capacitors, unlike batteries, store energy in an electric field that is generated between its two terminals. Super capacitors are storage devices that can be charged or discharged a hundred or a thousand times faster than regular batteries. The problem is that their fabrication is both costly and cumbersome.

The UCLA researchers achieved this by using the DVD Burner to produce the micro-scale graphene based supercapacitor.

Micro-supercapacitors

Graphene is a one atom thick layer of graphite. This practically means that it is very thin and thus can be used in the diminishing sizes of equipment. Also, it is fairly easy to make and good conductor of electricity thus making it extremely useful in electrical applications.

What the researchers did was used graphite oxide to coat a plastic layer on a disk and used the laser in the DVD-burner to create super micro-capacitors. The process was fast and cost-effective in comparison to the prevalent methods. You can read the details here.

This created a surface that has energy storage and that can be bended or can be directly imbedded on the chip (owing to its thinness). Also, it is found that they have excellent cycling stability meaning they have longer life span than micro batteries.

Video of how the break-through was made

I would like to discuss the impact of such technology. While the uses are immense from solar-powered cells to integrated on-chip energy source, I am more curious to why this technology is not yet bought or patented or asked for by companies like Google, Samsung or Apple for that matter. These companies are not in the energy business, true. But these companies are currently the companies that will be most impacted by this breakthrough.

Imagine a Nexus with a week’s battery. It would destroy any other phone in the market on battery alone.

Google’s project glass would get a huge boost with such a powering system. Apple could show it as the next big thing (something they desperately need right now). Samsung’s dream of flexible displays would come true this year only.

I know I may be getting ahead of myself but with the biggest innovation in tech field recently being water-proof tablet, I think this truly is the next big thing. Let the big three know this.

Note: This research is actually about a year old, but came into limelight only recently. Also, there are number of people from scientific community, who debunk the theory (see some of the comments). However, if this research proves even half true, we may really have something big on our hands!

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About Kunal Prakash

A graduate from IIT-Roorkee, Kunal Prakash’s love for technology was at first sight and everlasting. He is currently enjoying the first stint as a professional after leaving over 20 years of schooling. You can follow him on facebook or visit his blog for his other musings.

2 comments

  1. I was wondering. Why dont they have solar panels on smart phones like in calculators. Like on the top side of the phone which does not house any port or anything. I am sure there is some area not used in any way on the smart phone. While the phone is in pocket, light contacts the solar panel and keeps charging. It does not charge the phone hugely but it keeps charging continuously in its small way. May be in a day if it increases the battery capacity by 1 hour, it is a great result. I know I am a layman in the geekish world. But a question is a question. Why not?? :) Just my two paisa :)

    • In a calculator the amount of energy needed is minuscule compared to today’s smartphones. Also, calculator turns off while the phone is always on. Even with the best technology implemented the phone would not charge for more than an hour in a week. Even less. This is not a very noticeable change on the part of the user. The price on the other hand would increase noticeably effectively making technology not a high priority in the smartphone industry. I do remember someone making a prototype but practical and marketable products are not yet possible with current technology. I do hope though that they reach there fast enough. :)

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