After 200 thousand recharges, California-made battery lives on

UCI News

Original news release was published by University of California.

Another daily struggle of smart-device users might have been solved in Irvine, California. Nearly all the devices we use on daily basis have one vital flaw. The battery. No matter the manufacturer, no matter the miliampere-hours, batteries significantly lose their capacity to carry electricity after a certain number of recharges. In consumer tech, this number is in hundreds, in advanced and specialized batteries it spans in thousands. With usage of nanorods (wires with diameter thousands times thinner than human hair) and graphene, they were able to get around 10 thousand recharges before significant battery fade.

Scheme portraying the effect of PMMA gel. A – before B – after; Image courtesy of ACS Energy Letters

The problem with nanorods was, that because of their size, they are very fragile. In a typical lithium-ion battery, they quickly crack and the recharging cycle gets damaged. So far, the problem tackled by placing them into a liquid electrolyte, which led to a very long lifetime. Several thousand recharges were easily achievable, with only variable being the materials used.

UCI researchers tried an innovative approach, and instead of focusing on different liquids, they used a Plexiglas-like gel electrolyte. Golden nano-wires, each 5 milimeters in total length, were first coated in manganese dioxide and then covered with poly(methyl methacrylate) (PMMA) gel electrolyte. It took Mya Le Thai, the leader of this study and a doctoral candidate at UCI, eleven weeks to get the battery capacity to 94-96% of the original charge. It amounts to 200 thousand cycles of discharging and recharging.

“Mya was playing around, and she coated this whole thing with a very thin gel layer and started to cycle it,” said Reginald Penner, chair of UCI’s chemistry department. “She discovered that just by using this gel, she could cycle it hundreds of thousands of times without losing any capacity.”

Hard work and creativity of the scientists in California has paid off. Lifespans of consumer-used batteries could be greatly improved thanks to this discovery. Successfully implementing this technology on market would bring more consumer satisfaction, less energy consumption, and lesser amount of toxic waste – a topic tightly connected to disposal of old batteries. Hopefully, PMMA-electrolyte battery will make a smooth transition to consumer tech.

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