Human technology has grown tremendously in the fields of energy efficiency, energy production, vehicle design, material technology, computing, and many other fields in the past 50 years, advancements which promise an astounding array of new options, increased mobility and convenience, and improved environmental performance. Batteries though, are still a major problem. Electricity delivered by batteries is hundreds times more expensive that that which comes directly from the grid, they have made only minor strides in improving energy density, charge time, resilience, and environmentalism (most still use highly toxic materials in construction and production). They are the anchor holding back wide adoption of electric vehicles, the true miniaturization and mobilization of consumer electronics, and many other technologies which depend on mobile, reliable, long lasting power. This bottleneck has given rise to dozens of lines of research on how to pack more stored energy into less space, in a way which can be released in a controlled, safe manner, and replaced quickly and easily. Hydrogen fuel cells, supercapacitors (including some very interesting work with graphene), frozen air, and many different “battery” technologies have been explored. While no technology has yet proven itself to be the silver bullet for the battery bottleneck, many technologies seem to be converging on the goal of economic viability, consistent performance from lab to reality, and viable applications for the product.
This blog post focuses on several new battery technologies, particularly the “Prieto Battery” which is being researched by Colorado University Assistant Professor Amy Prieto. This battery has several advantages over traditional batteries, it has a much higher energy density, is considerably more resilient (it can endure many more discharge/recharge cycles that other batteries of it’s type) and can charge MUCH more quickly (1000 times faster). What’s particularly brilliant about this advancement is the way in which it’s achieved. Traditional batteries, whether lithium-ion or Nickle Metal Hydride, are essentially comprised of sheets of different materials which interact to create the battery. This means that electrons moving through the battery have a very limited surface area across which they can move between layers. The Prieto Battery uses a copper foam as the primary structure, onto which is coated the other layers of material. This foam architecture means that the surface area over which the layers are touching is massively increased while the volume stays the same, meaning that much of it’s increased performance comes from it’s form, which is created by a fairly simple process. It’s a brilliant design solution to a technological problem. Other advancements mean that this battery can be made up of and produced with fewer/less toxic materials.