The world awaits a major breakthrough in battery technology to power the portable electronics we all increasingly use - and researchers at an Irish University may just have made it.
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The development marks potentially big progress – but may not yet be quite the real revolution that will surely happen one day.
Until that does happen, we have to get the best we can in the world of rechargeables - and these aren’t bad, or expensive, it has to be said. The range of rechargeable batteries from RS, for example, and other big online suppliers such as Maplin and Farnell etc., vary in performance according to what you’re prepared to pay and the specific application you have in mind – but they’re getting better almost by the day. Whether it is RS Components or Maplin, big wholesalers will always have an extensive range to choose from.
Yet they still can’t really keep pace with the world’s ever-increasing demands, which is why any advance in storable power is treated with such excitement by the world’s technology community. So the new research is big, big news in the technology world. It’s easy to see why; the world market for rechargeable batteries is currently estimated by market analysts to increase from around $14 billion per annum now, to close to $55 billion by the year 2020.
Researchers at the University’s Materials and Surface Science Institute have now developed a new technology which increases by over 100% the capacity of lithium-ion battery anodes. What’s more, the batteries retain this increased capacity when they’ve have been charged up then completely discharged over a thousand times. This is far better than all lithium-ion batteries currently available.
As things stand, lithium-ion batteries use graphite – an allotrope of carbon which is stable and has been the best available material for batteries for around three decades.
The demand for batteries, and particularly lithium-ion and nickel-metal-hydride types, has resulted in a rapid growth in demand for graphite, notably since the late 80s. This increase in demand has been driven by all the portable electronics we take for granted today like portable music players, power tools, mobile devices, laptops and all the rest of the ubiquitous portable electronics we all use. Electric cars are also helping to increase the demand for graphite. Yet at the same time, graphite actually has quite low storage capacity.
Now, the University of Limerick researchers have experimented with, germanium, which has a far higher capacity. Through the use of nanotechnology, Materials and Surface Science Institute’s researchers have been able to restructure germanium through nanowires – making it a stable and porous material. This means the material doesn’t fall apart as had previously been the case after a few cycles.
Ergo… the breakthrough has the potential to completely revolutionise battery technology and, in particular, the technology surrounding rechargeable batteries. And any such breakthrough obviously has mind-boggling commercial potential – until, of course, yet another breakthrough supersedes it. But for now, it would seem that germanium is the new graphite.