Small in size, big on power: New microbatteries the most powerful yet

Apr 16, 2013 by Liz Ahlberg
This graphic illustrates a high-power battery technology from the University of Illinois. Ions flow between three-dimensional micro-electrodes in a lithium ion battery. Credit: Beckman Institute/University of Illinois

(Phys.org) —Though they be but little, they are fierce. The most powerful batteries on the planet are only a few millimeters in size, yet they pack such a punch that a driver could use a cellphone powered by these batteries to jump-start a dead car battery – and then recharge the phone in the blink of an eye.

Developed by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the new microbatteries out-power even the best and could drive new applications in and compact electronics.

Led by William P. King, the Bliss Professor of mechanical science and engineering, the researchers published their results in the April 16 issue of Nature Communications.

"This is a whole new way to think about batteries," King said. "A battery can deliver far more power than anybody ever thought. In recent decades, electronics have gotten small. The thinking parts of computers have gotten small. And the battery has lagged far behind. This is a that could change all of that. Now the is as high-performance as the rest of it."

With currently available power sources, users have had to choose between power and energy. For applications that need a lot of power, like broadcasting a over a long distance, capacitors can release energy very quickly but can only store a small amount. For applications that need a lot of energy, like playing a radio for a long time, fuel cells and batteries can hold a lot of energy but release it or recharge slowly.

"There's a sacrifice," said James Pikul, a graduate student and first author of the paper. "If you want high energy you can't get high power; if you want high power it's very difficult to get high energy. But for very interesting applications, especially modern applications, you really need both. That's what our batteries are starting to do. We're really pushing into an area in the design space that is not currently available with technologies today."

The new microbatteries offer both power and energy, and by tweaking the structure a bit, the researchers can tune them over a wide range on the power-versus-energy scale.

The batteries owe their high performance to their internal three-dimensional microstructure. Batteries have two key components: the anode (minus side) and cathode (plus side). Building on a novel fast-charging cathode design by materials science and engineering professor Paul Braun's group, King and Pikul developed a matching anode and then developed a new way to integrate the two components at the microscale to make a complete battery with superior performance.

With so much power, the batteries could enable sensors or radio signals that broadcast 30 times farther, or devices 30 times smaller. The batteries are rechargeable and can charge 1,000 times faster than competing technologies – imagine juicing up a credit-card-thin phone in less than a second. In addition to consumer electronics, medical devices, lasers, sensors and other applications could see leaps forward in technology with such sources available.

"Any kind of electronic device is limited by the size of the battery – until now," King said. "Consider personal medical devices and implants, where the battery is an enormous brick, and it's connected to itty-bitty electronics and tiny wires. Now the is also tiny."

Now, the researchers are working on integrating their batteries with other electronics components, as well as manufacturability at low cost.

"Now we can think outside of the box," Pikul said. "It's a new enabling technology. It's not a progressive improvement over previous technologies; it breaks the normal paradigms of sources. It's allowing us to do different, new things."

The National Science Foundation and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research supported this work. King also is affiliated with the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology; the Frederick Seitz Materials Research Laboratory; the Micro and Nanotechnology Laboratory; and the department of electrical and computer engineering at the U. of I.

Explore further: A single molecule device for mobile phones

More information: The paper, "High Power Lithium Ion Micro Batteries From Interdigitated Three-Dimensional Bicontinuous Nanoporous Electrodes," is available online: www.nature.com/ncomms/journal/… full/ncomms2747.html

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grondilu
4.7 / 5 (6) Apr 16, 2013
Since it sounds so amazing, I guess there will be a catch. My bet is that those things are going to be extremely tough to manufacture. Kind of like graphene.
Sean_W
3.2 / 5 (9) Apr 16, 2013
Anything that is electrically driven like mobile robots will need less power to move because they will weigh less. Or it's designers could keep the same weight and expand the operating range. I know this is early in the development but it sounds like a big deal.
Jeweller
not rated yet Apr 16, 2013
They really make it sound like a panacea.
Ober
1.3 / 5 (6) Apr 16, 2013
Well written article as well!!!
I wonder if this is another outcome of the Obama administration pumping money into battery technology?
betterexists
1.4 / 5 (9) Apr 16, 2013
A Constant Flood of such Info.

There must be an Independent Website showing Bar Graphs Relative to these so-called Awe-Inspiring Findings for Laymen to appreciate rather than be duped if there is a catch....i.e keeping the fingers crossed, waiting for ever to seeing the Product in the Market...which Never seems to happen.
EyeNStein
3 / 5 (12) Apr 16, 2013
So what is the energy density of a single Lithium Fluoride molecule?
So that we can know when these 30x this, and 1000x that, exaggerated salesman claims will end. Some actual test result Watt Hour per gram figures would be great too.
Whydening Gyre
3.1 / 5 (14) Apr 16, 2013
Lot of sales pitch without the numbers to back it up...
StolenTree37
4.1 / 5 (13) Apr 16, 2013
The power density is listed in the abstract linked to at the end of the article. 7.4 mW cm−2 μm−1. This is a news site not a scientific journal, so I don't see why you all are complaining
baudrunner
2.5 / 5 (13) Apr 16, 2013
Batteries have two key components: the anode (minus side) and cathode (plus side).

Long ago, when the study of electronics involved understanding the vaccuum tube - diodes, triodes, pentodes, cathode ray tubes - we were taught that electrons were emitted from a heated cathode and received by the anode after crossing the gap. The screen of the CRT in an old fashioned television has a positive charge on itm and a scanning electron beam was emitted from the cathode end which was heated by a filament. In energy saving CRT tv's, this filament is always on. Electrons have a negative charge, therefore the cathode is the negative electrode, and the positively charged anode is the positive electrode.

I'd like to know who was the smartass who turned those properties of electrodes around, because now I'm finding out that everybody has it wrong, but that's the way that they're teaching it in schools today.

To repeat: the cathode is the minus side and the anode is the positive side.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1.6 / 5 (7) Apr 16, 2013
Great. Perpetual bugs in every room. Nobody will have anything to hide ever again.

I've had the same little red LED flashlight on my keychain for at least 10 years. I rarely use it but still...
ChuckG
not rated yet Apr 16, 2013
Leakage data?
topkill
4.3 / 5 (6) Apr 16, 2013
@baudrunner, I am SO glad to finally hear someone else ask this question after wondering about it 35 years ago myself. I did some research back in high school and found out that poor old Ben Franklin is the culprit. He had no way of knowing which way the "particles" were flowing, he just knew charge was moving and he just did the old "eeny-meany-miney-mo" thing and picked one end and called it positive and the other end negative. If he'd just guessed the other way, it would be so much easier to study :-)
ValeriaT
3.2 / 5 (16) Apr 16, 2013
Well written article as well!
It's not well written article, because it describes only the (potential) advantages of technology, but not technology itself. Therefore it's a typical PR article - not the informative article. But it definitely fulfilled its propagandistic purpose, because the layman sheep like you are still impressed with it without actually realizing the actual principle of new technology. In contemporary society the financing of research is what is important, not what this research is actually about. You - as a layman - are just supposed to remain quiet and to pay for it. If you would understand it, you could start to ask the questions - and this is not, what is desirable here.
topkill
3 / 5 (2) Apr 16, 2013
But StolenTree, that's a power density / volume, not an energy density...or what people are REALLY asking: specific energy.

It really can't be that hard for them (the abstract) to give us some kind of idea about the specific energy it's capable of. I assume it's not that good in SOME area or they'd be trumpeting hard numbers. I bet it's a great fit for certain applications.
ValeriaT
2.8 / 5 (9) Apr 16, 2013
that's a power density / volume, not an energy density
You can find the details in publicly accessible supplementary info. It contains the power density/energy density diagram, which removes the need of all speculations and discussions about it: you have both densities pictured there together with their mutual relation.
TheKnowItAll
1.7 / 5 (6) Apr 16, 2013
Somewhere within the associated PDF I read that they actually lose 5% total energy density per cycle. Good for some applications but if you're thinking rechargable it's not impressive.
ValeriaT
2.3 / 5 (6) Apr 16, 2013
In addition, the more intimate mixture of cathodic and anodic materials you prepare, the better explosive you will get at the case of accidental shortcut.
snoosebaum
1 / 5 (1) Apr 16, 2013
sounds like the graphene capacitor idea, what about scaling it up in size? to power a car say.
ValeriaT
1 / 5 (5) Apr 16, 2013
But why? Would you pay for a battery, which will lose half of its capacity during one week of daily recharging?
totinen
not rated yet Apr 16, 2013
Maybe that structure is general, so its idea could be applied for more persistent batteries?
unknownorgin
3.4 / 5 (8) Apr 17, 2013
"A driver could use a cellphone powered by these batteries to jump start a dead car battery" Who writes this stuff? I doubt the circut of a cell phone could handle the 100 plus amps current and you jump start an engine not a car battery. Why not say "A cellphone sized battery using this technology could charge a dead car battery"?
Tim_Riches
1 / 5 (1) Apr 17, 2013
I imagine the article provides some details... well, what do you know, it does. ;-)
Markmj
3 / 5 (2) Apr 17, 2013
can someone provide more information about: scale up, manufacturing cost, implementation time
gmarster
3 / 5 (2) Apr 17, 2013
FainAvis
2.3 / 5 (3) Apr 17, 2013
@baudrunner
"...cathode polarity depends on the device type..."
Clip from Wikipedia page on Cathode.
_traw_at
not rated yet Apr 17, 2013
@baudrunner, @topkill. I don't know if it was Ben Franklin, but the person who decided that the negative particle or charge was negative, and that the positive was positive, did get it wrong. We have suffered from that mistake ever since... Ah, well, he still made great advances in this field anyways, so we can stand to suffer a bit... :-)
Origin314
5 / 5 (1) Apr 17, 2013
Show me a 4" Cube that can output 1000 watts for 2 Hours and I will throw 500k at this project.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Apr 17, 2013
but the person who decided that the negative particle or charge was negative, and that the positive was positive, did get it wrong.

They didn't get it wrong. Calling one side 'negative' and the other 'positive' is a purely arbitrary choice as long as you stick with it from then on (much like - and exactly for the same reason - as calling one side of a magnet 'south' and the other 'north').
If you exchange 'negative charge' for 'positive charge' in every textbook you still have perfectly valid textbooks.
antialias_physorg
3.9 / 5 (7) Apr 17, 2013
Show me a 4" Cube that can output 1000 watts for 2 Hours

A 4x4x4in cube of gasoline can supply you 1000 Watts for 7.5 hours.

I'll PM you details where you can send your money.
Tomator
not rated yet Apr 17, 2013
Baudrunner, you are wrong. As you look into the inside of diode, you can actually see that the cathode emits electrons. However, when you look from the outsise, you would clearly notice, that the electrons flow into the cathode (from which they are emitted inside of the device to travel to the anode) and flow out from the anode (which, internally, absobs them from the cathode). The same is with the battery, where the cathode is the side of the device. Inside the battery, the cathode emits electrons to the battery's interior and thus keeps its own positive charge. So you always connect anodes to cathodes to keep the current flow.
Tomator
2 / 5 (4) Apr 17, 2013
Show me a 4" Cube that can output 1000 watts for 2 Hours and I will throw 500k at this project.


Look at the sun. Do you see it? Now, throw your money at it and watch them burning.
Origin314
not rated yet Apr 17, 2013
Show me a 4" Cube that can output 1000 watts for 2 Hours

A 4x4x4in cube of gasoline can supply you 1000 Watts for 7.5 hours.


This is about the storage of energy and not the production.
Eikka
1 / 5 (2) Apr 17, 2013
Why not say "A cellphone sized battery using this technology could charge a dead car battery"?


Because it can't.

The charts in the supplementary material show that it's slightly worse in energy density compared to lead acid batteries, so in order to charge up a dead car battery you would need one that is slightly larger and heavier than it.

There's about 4 Watt-hours of energy in a modern cellphone battery, and given the lower energy density of this invention, about 1.5 Wh which is just about enough to crank a car engine for two seconds which is not enough to start it cold.

So the entire paragraph is just hyperbole.
antialias_physorg
3.8 / 5 (4) Apr 17, 2013
This is about the storage of energy and not the production.

Well, then you should be a bit more careful about wording your investment abilities.
topkill
1 / 5 (1) Apr 17, 2013
@ValeriaT,
Thanks for taking the time to read and find the pertinent link. Still don't know the specific energy, but we know lots about the energy density. Interesting that this thing behaves truly like a hybrid battery/supercap. It has a steep voltage drop like a capacitor, but only about half as much.
We also know its Achilles heel now (at least in this early version):
"There is a sharp cutoff in the maximum energy density of the supercapacitors, around 4.0 µWh/cm2 µm. Six of our microbatteries can achieve a higher energy density than 4.0 µWh/cm2 µm, with the maximum being 15 µWh/cm2 µm, an almost 4X increase. The energy densities of the microbatteries are initially superior to the supercapcitors, but lose an average 5% total energy density after each cycle. "

That 5% loss per cycle gets kinda big, kinda fast. :-)
baudrunner
2 / 5 (8) Apr 17, 2013
@FainAvis: That's just bullshit. You have to take what you read on Wikipedia with a grain of salt. The writer is justifying, and thereby perpetuating, the misinformation fed to him at his school. He is reiterating without understanding, and trying to impress you with his mastery of the knowledge. Typical.

Metals are defined as nuclei in a sea of electrons. Electrons are the majority mobile charge carriers. Einstein won his Nobel prize for his explanation of the photo-electric effect, in which he described how bombarding a sodium block in a Bell jar connected to a circuit with an ammeter with UV rays caused electrons to leave the sodium block and migrate through the circuit. Cathodes in a CRT tube were often coated with sodium to generate those electrons when they were heated. Cathodes are ALWAYS the negative pole, whether they are on a battery or in a vacuum tube, or what have you. The article is simply wrong.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1.4 / 5 (9) Apr 17, 2013
it describes only the (potential) advantages of technology, but not technology itself. Therefore it's a typical PR article - not the informative article. But it definitely fulfilled its propagandistic purpose
-You mean like Andrea Rossi and his gadget? Its ok for rossi to keep his ecat a secret because of the money he stands to make, but not these guys who are doing it for the same reason?

I smell double standard.

By the way, Star Scientific has a company to commercialize their pion-to-muon fusion process, a website, backers, and such. Why hasnt anyone done the same thing with magnetic motors? They should be far easier to produce, like the one in the vid you posted of that iranian who keeps one behind his couch.
http://www.starsc...through/
bionano
5 / 5 (1) Apr 17, 2013
5% loss per cycle...
Static
5 / 5 (1) Apr 18, 2013
A friend and I put together the $32 and bought the paper itself...scrubbing aside most technical details, the main thing that can be put here is that the properties that make this a great battery are that instead of taking alternating plates anode-cathode, it's actually integrated on a much smaller scale, where the particles of the anode and cathode sides assemble individually to form in such a way that these materials are ideal for the transport of ions.

The problem? This "assembly" I'm talking about, is really many complex steps of difficult chemistry. It's not something that's going to go to mass manufacturing within the next year or three easily. In fact, even when it does, they're likely still going to be a niche market because of the complexity involved.
sirchick
5 / 5 (1) Apr 19, 2013
You mean like Andrea Rossi and his gadget? Its ok for rossi to keep his ecat a secret because of the money he stands to make


If his device comes to nothing which is very likely to be, he probably won't get a penny to his name.
nxtr
not rated yet Apr 19, 2013
So much potential can only be more dangerous if there is a 787 type overheat. I don't want my pocket to reach 800 degrees Fahrenheit in a microsecond.
Jeddy_Mctedder
2 / 5 (8) Apr 21, 2013
this article was horrible and does not belong on physorg
d3bug
not rated yet Apr 21, 2013
I want my phaser now then.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1.8 / 5 (5) Apr 21, 2013
I want my phaser now then.
No you dont because this might happen
http://www.youtub...02JG-QGE
FastEddy
1 / 5 (6) Apr 22, 2013
Since it sounds so amazing, I guess there will be a catch. My bet is that those things are going to be extremely tough to manufacture. Kind of like graphene.


Initially, maybe. But after we teach micro-bots to do those tricks, then ...
betterexists
1 / 5 (5) Apr 22, 2013
A lot of articles in the Energy Category. Volcanoes have so much energy. Why not dump some bouncing back materials that would capture the energy. Why NOT have some pipelines with water running at a specific height.....taking care of the height so that they capture only heat energy but not sustain any damage. Just keep doing it until no heat remains.
http://www.desico...lpapers/
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Apr 22, 2013
Why NOT have some pipelines with water running at a specific height

Because the magma levels tend to change. So your 'specific height' tends to change.

Taking energy out of volcanoes that way might also not be a good idea. You'd be cooling the upper surface of the magma. If that solidifies you've created a plug. Magma doesn't like to be plugged up. In such cases volcanoes tend not to just break out but explode rather violently sooner or later.
manifespo
1 / 5 (2) Apr 23, 2013
Anode is an electron spout / donor / blower.
Cathode is an electron sink / acceptor / vacuum.

The Opposite occurs with holes/protons/ions+... Baudrunner? :-)
TheGhostofOtto1923
2 / 5 (4) Apr 23, 2013
Taking energy out of volcanoes that way might also not be a good idea. You'd be cooling the upper surface of the magma
And yet... and yet... if you had only done a little research you would have had something useful to contribute...
http://www.takepa...s-energy
http://www.renewa...tricity/

-Another lost opportunity. Sigh.