Thursday, March 15, 2007

Battery Warriors

While the future of the EEStor battery is clouded with uncertainty, there are a bunch of companies that are working on some less startling but significantly important improvements to battery technology - and their newest ally is nanotechnology.

More Recharge Cycles

One such company is Altair Nanotechnologies. "Lithium-ion batteries, commonly used in laptops and cellphones, have a relatively short life span because they use graphite, which wears out quickly in normal usage. The Altair team substituted a nanomaterial called lithium titanate that lasts much longer. The change lengthened the life of a lithium-ion battery from 750 recharges to between 10,000 and 15,000 recharges."

Safer Recharging

High profile A123 Systems used a different approach and a different nano-material. "Most safety issues in batteries occur during charging, and nanophosphate is much less prone to such problems. So A123 replaced the cobalt oxide in lithium-ion cells with nanophosphate." In addition to making the battery safer, it also ensured delivery of very high power. In fact an electric motorcycle based on such a battery achieved 0 to 60 mph in just 1.4 seconds. Based on its batteries, A123 has also developed a conversion kit that can convert regular hybrids into plug-in hybrids, though the kit is yet to hit the market.

Increased Shelf-life

mPhase addressed a different problem faced by the industry, and created a battery with indefinite shelf life. "Using nanomaterials and basic physics principles, mPhase kept the chemicals inside the battery from mixing – the cause of gradual power leakage – until it was used. Such batteries could be used for emergency lighting systems, for example, that might not be used for 10 years, but would require full power when needed."

The Future

There is some amazing research going on at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

"Prof. Angela Belcher, a biomolecular materials chemist at MIT, is trying to use biological methods, such as viruses, to assemble batteries", while, 'Professor Chiang, who also researches self- assembling batteries, imagines an ink-like substance that would allow one to "paint" a battery onto a device.'

If these techniques could revolutionize manufacturing of batteries, wireless charging will elevate battery applications to an entirely new level.

Despite all the naysayers, MIT researchers are gung-ho about the potential for ultracapacitors as batteries. This is similar to what EEStor plans to do, alternate technologies to achieve the same means would be good for the industry.