Tiny microbatteries could power devices for days, recharge in seconds

Kevin Lee
25 April, 2013
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Image courtesy of the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology

Smartphones have become dramatically more powerful in recent years, featuring ever-increasing amounts of processing power, memory, data storage and higher screen resolutions. The only thing that seems to be lacking is enough battery power to keep our devices running all day.

A team of researchers at the University of Illinois in the US may have come up with a new microbattery that might just be able to power your phone for an entire week. According to the researchers, their new power cells are 2000 times more powerful than comparable traditional rechargeable batteries.
But that’s not all – these batteries are also capable of recharging 1000 times faster than conventional lithium-ion batteries. The researchers say these microbatteries measure “only a few millimetres in size”, which could leave a lot more room in smartphones for better components like more powerful radios that can carry a cell signal 30 times farther.

More traditional batteries often have to sacrifice the ability to supply lots of power on demand in exchange for more energy storage – or vice-versa. The Illinois team says its battery is good at both thanks to its unique internal microstructure.

Batteries typically transfer energy between two mediums: the anode (minus side) and cathode (plus side). Professor Paul Braun’s group at Illinois improved the integration of these two parts by matching a novel fast-charging cathode design with an anode that meshes together at the micro-scale level, giving the battery overall superior performance.

William King

Mechanical science and engineering professor William P King. | Photo by L Brian Stauffer

This new technology could be used to improve the battery life of everything from cars to our pocket devices. The researchers also posit a comically cool situation where you could use your phone battery to jumpstart a dead car battery and then recharge the same battery in your phone in less than a second.

“Any kind of electronic device is limited by the size of the battery – until now,” William P King, Bliss Professor of mechanical science and engineering, said in a release. “Consider personal medical devices and implants, where the battery is an enormous brick, and it’s connected to itty-bitty electronics and tiny wires. Now the battery is also tiny.”
The researchers are now working on integrating their batteries with other electronics components, as well as looking into the logistics of manufacturing these power cells at low cost.

by Kevin Lee, TechHive

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