Tuesday, October 9, 2007

New and Truly Improved Batteries

At the high school I went to, students could be in a program that had them take harder classes to get them more ready for the real world. As a part of that program, the seniors were required to do a project of some sort and take it to the Kansas City Science and Engineering Fair. For my project, I worked on making yeast bio-fuel cells. They worked, but only produced millivolts, nothing useful in today’s world.

My try at making an alternative battery wasn’t very successful, but the people at Lucent Technologies Bell Labs and mPhase Technologies have developed a very successful battery.

They call it the nanobattery.

In order to fully explain how it works, I will start with how regular batteries work. Batteries are basically miniature chemical reactors, except that they are controlled. When things are working right, the battery reacts in two parts, with an electron moving through whatever the battery is hooked up to and an ion moving through the electrolyte. The moving electron creates electricity. The problem with these kinds of batteries is that the reaction can happen even when the battery isn’t hooked up to anything.

The nanobattery is here to solve that problem. It works using a tiny silicon honeycomb. When the battery isn’t hooked to anything, the honeycomb is hydrophobic, it doesn’t like water. This makes the electrolyte stay out of contact with the two sides of the battery. When the battery is needed, then the honeycomb becomes hydrophilic and the electrolyte rushes in to connect the two sides of the battery. This small modification gives the nanobattery a great shelf life. It’s also really small, as its name suggests, because the honeycomb allows for lots of surface area.

Thank Aunt Janna for the idea, GizMag, mPhase Technologies, and ScienCentral for the content and GizMag again for the image.

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