You’d probably think that some scientific law was being violated if someone told you that your smartphone could be charged from empty to full in only one second—but a group of researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have created micro-batteries that will do exactly that. The group, led by William King, created a battery that can fit in a credit-card thin size device. In comparison, current devices are around 10 mm thick.
“The thinking parts of computers have gotten small. And the battery has lagged far behind. This is a microtechnology that could change all of that. Now the power source is as high-performance as the rest of it,” said King. Energy storage solutions right now involve a lot of trade-offs—either lots of power (watts) or lots of energy (watt-hours). Supercapacitors can release a massive amount of power, but only for a few seconds; fuel cells can store a vast amount of energy, but are limited in their peak power output. Currently, the battery of choice in our devices tend to be lithium ion (Li-Ion) batteries, but even those batteries have their limits.
“There’s a sacrifice,” said James Pikul, a graduate student and first author of the paper. “If you want high energy you can’t get high power; if you want high power it’s very difficult to get high energy. But for very interesting applications, especially modern applications, you really need both. That’s what our batteries are starting to do. We’re really pushing into an area in the energy storage design space that is not currently available with technologies today.”
The battery that is being developed at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will have both power and energy. According to the university’s press release, “With so much power, the batteries could enable sensors or radio signals that broadcast 30 times farther, or devices 30 times smaller. The batteries are rechargeable and can charge 1,000 times faster than competing technologies—imagine juicing up a credit-card-thin phone in less than a second. In addition to consumer electronics, medical devices, lasers, sensors and other applications could see leaps forward in technology with such power sources available.”
With this new battery, there could be a radical change in how our devices are made. “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.”