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New Battery: As Thin As Paper And Spread Like A Virus

With so many hybrid and electric vehicles being built, a change for the type of batteries used in them has become a necessity.

Hence recently, researchers from two leading US universities have come up with new battery technologies that can help change the way hybrid and electric vehicles are built.

In fact, by way of the research it was found that in near future, car batteries might be made of paper or bizarre still, they might be created by a virus. Sounds surprising doesn't it? Well, this was demonstrated in a leading-edge battery research and development that was held recently.

How Battery Functions

With new directions and development in research, the battery's underlying concept remains largely the same as when it was invented way back in 1800. The Italian scientist Alessandro Volta stacked layers of silver and zinc plates which were separated by pieces of a paper ink blotter that was soaked in a brine mixture of salt and water. The zinc and copper plates were the electrodes, and the solution on the blotters was the electrolyte.

However, the recent high-tech design involves everything about how a battery begins and ends with the idea of opposite charges which are positive and negative. Electrons move from the negative terminal, through a solid or liquid material which is called the electrolyte, to the positive terminal. The properties of the electrolyte control how quickly electrons are produced and how quickly they move from the negative to positive terminals.

Paper and Carbon Nanotubes

A recent research done by a group of researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York are back to using paper with a high-tech twist. Carbon nanotubes are infused into a material that is 90 per cent cellulose and which is virtually identical to ordinary paper. The nanotubes, which colour the paper black, act as electrodes and allow the storage devices to conduct electricity. The results originally appeared online in RPI News on August 13, 2007.

The device functions as both a lithium-ion battery and a super-capacitor, which stores charge like a battery but has no electrolyte. The paper battery provides a long, steady power output as against a conventional battery and also as a super-capacitor's quick burst of high energy. The ionic liquid electrolyte that is soaked into the paper is a liquid salt and contains no water, so it won't freeze or boil. The paper battery also uses no toxic chemicals. Not only does it help power electronic devices, but in larger configurations the paper battery could be moulded into shapes like the door of a car.

The paper battery resulted from an accidental collaboration of three laboratories at Rensselaer that were melding the contributions of students in the fields of chemistry and chemical engineering; materials science; and electrical engineering. Dr. Robert Linhardt's group was making thin cellulose membranes to help in kidney research. A student in another lab suggested carbon nanotubes to make the membranes stronger, and a student in the third lab saw the potential for use as a battery and super-capacitor.

The researchers have now formed a company called as the Paper Battery Company. Now their goal is to take the process that they began in the lab and adapt it to large-scale fabrication that would lend it to commercial applications. They now need to boost the battery's energy capacity, and also lower the cost of making the batteries on a large scale. In addition to transportation, they hope to adapt their design for use with windmills and with photovoltaic cells, which produce electricity from sunlight. These batteries would be used to store energy for use when the sun is not shining or when the wind is not blowing.

Virus Battery Catching On

Just like paper battery, researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., have built a battery using a common type of virus that is not harmful to humans. The virus is called a bacteriophage and will infect bacteria but not humans. The development was reported in MIT News on April 9, 2009.

The MIT team believes that the virus battery will eventually be used not only to power computers and other electronics, but also to power hybrid or electric cars. The battery is rechargeable, and the researchers believe that it will last longer than conventional lithium-ion batteries. All the materials that are used in producing the virus battery are non-toxic. The virus is genetically engineered, and "self-assembles" both anode and cathode material thereby adhering to carbon nanotubes. The battery is then printed on flexible film.

In 2009, the Obama Administration's economic stimulus package included $2 billion to help develop battery technology for electric cars. As always, money should put plenty of charge into new research.

Tags :     battery     electric cars    


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