Digital Quantum Battery Could Boost Energy Density Tenfold

December 22, 2009 by Lisa Zyga weblog
Digital quantum battery
This figure shows the energy density and the power density of nano vacuum tubes in comparison to other energy storage devices. Credit: H?bler and Osuagwu.

( -- Physicists theorize that quantum phenomena could provide a major boost to batteries, with the potential to increase energy density up to 10 times that of lithium ion batteries. According to a new proposal, billions of nanoscale capacitors could take advantage of quantum effects to overcome electric arcing, an electrical breakdown phenomenon which limits the amount of charge that conventional capacitors can store.

In their study, Alfred Hubler and Onyeama Osuagwu, both of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, have investigated capacity in arrays of nano vacuum tubes, which contain little or no gas. When the tubes' gap size - or the distance between electrodes - is about 10 wide, electric arcing is suppressed, preventing energy loss. Further, each tube can be addressed individually, making the technology digital and offering the possibility for data storage in conjunction with energy storage.

The physicists calculated that the large electric field exhibited under these conditions could lead to an anywhere between two and 10 times greater than that of today's best battery technologies. The scientists also estimated that the power density (i.e., the charge-discharge rates) could be orders of magnitude greater than that of today's batteries. In addition, the nature of the charging and discharging avoids the leakage faced by conventional batteries, so that the nano vacuum batteries waste very little energy and have a virtually unlimited lifetime.

The scientists say that it may be possible to build a prototype of the battery in the next year. Since the energy density is independent from the materials used, the nano vacuum tubes could be built from inexpensive, non-toxic materials. The nano vacuum tubes could also be fabricated using existing photolithographic techniques, and could be easily combined with .

As for the possibility of , the physicists explain that each nano vacuum tube can have two gates, an energy gate and an information gate. Each nano vacuum tube can also be charged and discharged individually, in any arbitrary order. By inserting a MOSFET (metal-oxide-semiconductor field-effect transistor) in the wall of a nano vacuum tube, the state of the tube can be determined without charging or discharging it.

"For example, to store the number 22, one would convert it to binary notation 22 = 10110," the scientists wrote in their paper. "Then use the energy gates to charge the first, third and fourth tube and leave the second and fifth tube uncharged. When the energy gate holds a charge, it induces an electric field in the MOSFET that partially cancels the electric field from the electrodes of the information gate, which modifies the threshold voltage of the MOSFET. During read-out, a voltage slightly above the regular threshold voltages is applied to the information gate, and the MOSFET channel will become conducting or remain insulating, depending on the voltage threshold of the MOSFET, which depends on the charge on the energy gate. The current flow through the MOSFET channel is measured and provides a binary code, reproducing the stored data."

As Hubler explained in a recent article in MIT's Technology Review, the digital quantum battery concept can be viewed in different ways as a variation of several technologies.

"If you look at it from a digital electronics perspective, it's just a flash drive," Hubler said. "If you look at it from an electrical engineering perspective, you would say these are miniaturized vacuum tubes like in plasma TVs. If you talk to a physicist, this is a network of capacitors."

Hubler has applied for DARPA funding to develop a prototype of the digital quantum battery, and find out what will actually happen when loading the nano vacuum tubes with large amounts of energy.

Explore further: High-performance energy storage

More information: Alfred W. Hubler and Onyeama Osuagwu. "Digital quantum batteries: Energy and information storage in nano vacuum tube arrays." To be published in Complexity.

Related Stories

High-performance energy storage

July 3, 2007

North Carolina State University physicists have recently deduced a way to improve high-energy-density capacitors so that they can store up to seven times as much energy per unit volume than the common capacitor.

Increasing Electric Car Battery Performance

September 23, 2009

( -- Researchers have found that by replacing conventional graphite electrodes with silicon nanotube electrodes, lithium-ion batteries can store 10 times more charge.

Improved redox flow batteries for electric cars

October 13, 2009

A new type of redox flow battery presents a huge advantage for electric cars. If the rechargeable batteries are low, the discharged electrolyte fluid can simply be exchanged at the gas station for recharged fluid -- as easy ...

Recommended for you

New metamaterial paves way for terahertz technologies

October 24, 2016

A research team led by UCLA electrical engineers has developed an artificial composite material to control of higher-frequency electromagnetic waves, such as those in the terahertz and far-infrared frequencies.

Scientists manipulate surfaces to make them invisible

October 21, 2016

Most lenses, objectives, eyeglass lenses, and lasers come with an anti-reflective coating. Unfortunately, this coating works optimally only within a narrow wavelength range. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

5 / 5 (1) Dec 22, 2009
A revolution in battery technology, long over-due.
2.5 / 5 (2) Dec 22, 2009
could this be combined with nuclear battery technology somehow?
2.2 / 5 (10) Dec 22, 2009
I have deep and lasting concerns that the mil-ind complex is trolling for these technologies and will not hesitate to snap up any real energy storage advance in the name of more effective killing systems.

It may be tempting to take the poisoned funds from Darpa, but that's a deal with Mephistopheles. Darpa's mandate isn't to secure Americans, it is to secure the government that happens to "rule" it.

I strongly recommend any individual or group working on power cell technology to openly describe their work and not seek riches by hoping to sell to the merchants of death - they will use the technology against human life and our common cause of peace and liberty.
not rated yet Dec 22, 2009
could this be combined with nuclear battery technology somehow?

No. Its not going to work. The quantum tunneling effect will ruin it. The electrons will tunnel through the capacitor instead of staying put.
5 / 5 (5) Dec 22, 2009
Here's your open description:

The technology described here is called a capacitor.
In this invention, the capacitors are small, and
individually addressable. Vacuum is used as the

The gap of 10 nanometers is chosen to keep well away
from the tunnelling problems that would certainly
occur for gaps in the 1 nanometer range.

You can do the math yourself. You would need
a two plates, each of an area of 1130 square meters,
to provide a farad of capacitance at a separation of
10 nanometers.

After that, energy storage will be determined by the
voltage that you can place on the plates without
arcing. The better the vacuum, the more energy you
can store. A good vacuum will break down at about
2000000 volts per inch, so 10 nanometers will limit
you to about 3/4 of a volt before it arcs.

After they solve the problem of fractal or nano construction,
they will have to solve the problem of the hard
vacuum they will need.
not rated yet Dec 23, 2009
retrosurf seems to have the math worked out.
1 / 5 (1) Dec 23, 2009
I'm with retrosurf. I can't see how this could be better than using ceramic dielectrics - the breakdown voltages and dielectric properties are much better than a vacuum.
not rated yet Dec 23, 2009
could this be combined with nuclear battery technology somehow?

No. Its not going to work. The quantum tunneling effect will ruin it. The electrons will tunnel through the capacitor instead of staying put.

Where will the electrons go? If each nanotube is surrounded by others just like it, then any tunneling electrons will simply find themselves in a neighboring nanotube.

Irregardless, the boys have found a new thang, so they've earned the right to play with it and see what happens. I will cross my fingers and hope they get rich on a cool new energy storage technology.
not rated yet Dec 23, 2009
It seems that physicists are surrounding the solution. I hope that they are. I'd much rather the break through was in the capacitor area with nearly unlimited life rather than the battery side with material erosion.
1 / 5 (1) Dec 25, 2009
Hmm... I've been reading of hopeful theories on how this next one will finally increase energy storage 10 or 100 fold, for so long now, my first initial thoughts are now of skepticism. They used to bring hope, but I've now come to realize its all about marketing one's claims in order to captivate an audience in government to send them grant money. Yes, one day some theory will bear significant and reproducible results, but most of these stories are nothing more than charlatans seeking to line their pockets with taxpayer dollars. Many exaggerate beyond belief and even cook up phony results without any risk of prosecution for fraud.
not rated yet Dec 25, 2009
Darpa's mandate isn't to secure Americans, it is to secure the government that happens to "rule" it
Youve got to define the nature of what DARPA is there to protect. The progress of this civilization has been ever-denser, ever more organized, ever more capable. This 'govt' knows it stands on the shoulders of this vast body of productive, participating people. Those who would disrupt this Stability and Progress need to be fought against because without it the human race, under whatever form of govt, has no future. Defense tech usually needs a large consumer base with a healthy thruput to both proof it's tech and bring the cost per unit within reach. It needs Good Life in order to resist the Bad Life which would inevitably extinct us.
not rated yet Dec 25, 2009
Look forward to the Interim Goal of a defensible civilization which has spread itself about the inner system and is no longer the helpless Target that it is now. These are unique times and call for unique measures. After all, we may be the only sentient species which will ever exist. That alone is worth absolutely anything to protect and defend, and there is no god which will do what we must do for ourselves.
You sound depressed. Holidays got you down? Have a little patience, things will happen quicker than we can imagine. Put a little gratitude in your attitude. Yeah I'm a fortune cookie.
5 / 5 (2) Dec 25, 2009
imagine a portable battery with exterme energy denisty that can transmit energy wirelessly. magic wand .
Dec 27, 2009
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
not rated yet Dec 28, 2009
photobandgap polymer technology stocks in 2010, watch for it
not rated yet Dec 28, 2009
"Physicists theorize"

This hasn't even been demonstrated in the lab. So it's a long, long, long way to a commercial product, if ever.
5 / 5 (1) Jan 08, 2010
Not as far from production as results from Luddites naysaying...
not rated yet Feb 01, 2010

Yes. And I don't se why we couldn't have the technology soon. I mean... the "tech-part" is there waiting to be expoited... :)

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.