Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Big News from the Small

A virus that attacks the family of plants including tomatoes and tobacco is being put to a more benign and very impressive use: making lithium ion batteries ten times better.  Building off the rigid structure of the virus, scientists are constructing electrodes with much higher surface area, which in turn increases the efficiency of the battery.  With ten times the capacity in the same size, or the same capacity in one tenth the size, electronic devices could become smaller and last longer between charges.  Think smart phones that could go a week or more without needing a recharge.  And of course, smaller batteries mean less waste.

While more efficient batteries are undoubtedly great, that isn't the news that got me fired up this month.  After years and years of waiting, someone finally announced a breakthrough in the green tech I want to see become reality more than any other.  Oh yes, there is finally news on the supercapacitor front.  Scientists working with single-atom-thick sheets of carbon (a.k.a. graphene) have devised a method which makes the energy storage capacity of a supercapacitor about that of a nickle-metal hydride battery.  While that is less than the currently used lithium-ion batteries, it is still quite impressive, and the scientists have not come anywhere near the theoretical maximum of the material yet.  Hopefully advances will continue apace and we can get those things into use.  I still want a battery-free life!

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