Design seeks to eliminate dead space by enmeshing nanoscale pores in a three-dimensional formation

By Warren Miller, contributing writer

Researchers
at Cornell University have designed a faster-charging, longer-lasting battery that may revolutionize the
consumer electronics industry
. According to the team, the new battery structure could theoretically
charge in seconds.

The concept
behind the new design is innovative — unlike typical battery construction,
with an anode and a cathode separated by a non-conductive element, this design
seeks to eliminate all the dead space by enmeshing nanoscale pores in a
three-dimensional formation. Each pore is approximately 40 nanometers wide and
coated with a 10-nanometer-thick layer of insulating, ion-conducting separator.
Sulfur is utilized as a cathode material, but because sulfur doesn’t conduct
electricity, one final component, an electricity conducting polymer called
PEDOT (poly[3,4-ethylenedioxythiophene]) is used to top off the pores. 

Image source: Cornell.

“This is
truly a revolutionary battery architecture,” said Ulrich Weisner, the Spencer T. Olin Professor of Engineering in the
Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Columbia. “This
three-dimensional architecture basically eliminates all losses from dead volume
in your device. More importantly, shrinking the dimensions of these
interpenetrated domains down to the nanoscale, as we did, gives you orders of
magnitude higher power density. In other words, you can access the energy in
much shorter times than what’s usually done with conventional battery architectures.”

On the other
hand, the new design does have some potential drawbacks. The PEDOT layer
doesn’t expand like the sulfur does, creating tears in the polymer that don’t
mend when it shrinks again. This effect causes slow degradation of the
battery’s charging capacity, meaning the more times you charge it, the more
frequently you’ll have to keep charging it (like almost all batteries in
consumer electronic devices).

Still, the
reduced charge time alone could mean a windfall for the designers. Consumers
wouldn’t mind having to plug-in their smartphones or tablets more than once a
day if they could unplug them seconds later. Faster charging batteries are the
future of not only consumer electronics, but also electric vehicles. The main
impediments to the proliferation of electric vehicles is the lack of access to
charging stations and the time it takes to recharge the vehicles. If an
electric car could reach a full charge in a matter of seconds (or even minutes,
allowing for scale), gas-powered vehicles could become a thing of the past in a
matter of years.