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Could 'microbatteries' revolutionize the electric car?

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Tyrone Siu/Reuters

(Read caption) A sign is painted on a parking space for electric cars inside a car park in Hong Kong. Researchers say microbatteries finally bring batteries up to the level of the gadgets they power.

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We've heard it all before--new battery technologies appear, set to revolutionize the way we use electric products.

The story is the same for new microbatteries developed at the University of Illinois, but the researchers there are making even bigger claims than most.

Imagine a battery so small it could feature in a credit card-sized cellphone, charge in mere seconds, with enough power to jump-start a car. Now imagine it scaled up for use in an electric vehicle.

All the above scenarios are a possibility with the new microbattery technology, and the researchers say it finally brings batteries up to the level of the gadgets they power. 

Other intriguing statistics include power outputs enough to enable batteries to shrink by 30 times, and charging times 1,000 times faster than today's batteries--the aforementioned cellphone could charge in less than a second.

The technology is at the cutting edge of current scientific processes, the latest to use nanotechnology to advance materials. Anode and cathode use a three-dimensional microstructure for faster energy transfer and higher power outputs.

There are limitations of course, which researchers are currently working around.

According to James Pikul, first author of a paper in the Nature Communications journal, "There’s a sacrifice--If you want high energy you can’t get high power; if you want high power it’s very difficult to get high energy."

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"But for very interesting applications, especially modern applications, you really need both. That’s what our batteries are starting to do."

Limitations in place, the batteries' practical use invehicles would be limited--an electric car could offer plenty of power, or a long range, but not both.

But with development, the potential could be huge--as Mashable speculates, light-weight electric cars could emerge with charging times quicker than filling a gas tank. It would be green to charge too--solar power generated during the day could be stored with great efficiency, used to charge your car (and phone, and tablet PC, and more) whenever required.

As usual, we'll note that the technology is a long way from use in electric vehicles.

But it might not be as far away from other consumer electronics--Professor William King told Mashable he expects to see the technology used in consumer products just 1-2 years from now, replacing supercapacitors in radios and personal electronics.

 


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