New Microbattery Is Tiny, But Tough
The graphic illustrates a high power battery technology from the University of Illinois. Ions flow between three-dimensional micro-electrodes in a lithium ion battery.
CREDIT: Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology
A small but strong new battery might make it possible to charge cell phones and other electronic devices in a matter of seconds. Developed by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, these innovative power sources are only a few millimeters in size, but they pack enough energy to jump start a car battery.
According to researchers, the new microbatteries outpower even the best supercapacitors and could lead to new developments in the fields of electronics and radio communications.
“This is a whole new way to think about batteries,” said William King, professor of mechanical science and engineering at the University of Illinois and lead researcher behind the new battery.
“A battery can deliver far more power than anybody every thought. In recent decades, electronics have gotten small. The thinking parts of computers have gotten small. And the battery has lagged far behind.”
But King believes that his team’s microbatteries are going to change that reality.
In the past, electronics developers have had to make a trade off when it comes to choosing which batteries to use in their devices. They could choose a battery that dispenses large amounts of energy quickly but also dies very quickly (high power). Or they could choose a battery that can last for long stretches of time but also takes a long time to recharge (high energy).
“There’s a sacrifice,” said James Pikul, a graduate student a the University of Illinois and first author of the new study. “If you want high energy, you can’t get high power; if you want high power it’s very difficult to get high energy.”
According to Pikul, the trade-off inherent in energy storage design options is a real innovation killer, limiting the potential applications for new electronic technologies.
But his team’s new microbatteries offer both energy and power, and Pikul said that the batteries‘ structures can be tweaked to make them better suited for applications that require either high power or high energy.
Pikul and Kings’ microbatteries are based on a fast charging cathode design by Paul Braun, another materials science and engineering professor at the University of Illinois. Braun’s innovative lithium battery design was the first to solve the energy-power trade-off problem. But as of 2011, his batteries were still too large to be used in most consumer electronics.
King and Pikul improved upon Braun’s design by building a fast-charging anode to match Braun’s fast-discharging cathode. They then integrated both components at the microscale to make a tiny battery with big potential.
The researchers said that their microbatteries could enable sensors and radio signals to broadcast 30 times farther and might make it possible for electronics to be manufactured 30 times smaller than they are currently. And these batteries can reportedly be charged 1,000 times faster than competing technologies.
King said that these new batteries will ensure that electronic devices are no longer limited by the size of their batteries.
“Now we can think outside of the box,” Pikul said. “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.”
The researchers are currently working on integrating the microbatteries with other electronic components, and say they are hopeful that they will soon develop a way to manufacture these batteries at low cost.