Nanowire Tech Could Change Batteries Forever

April 21, 2016 - Written By Daniel Fuller

University labs have been responsible for countless innovations, with no small number of those being attempts to improve upon designs for batteries, currently used in everything from spaceships to smartphones. The latest innovation from the University of California, Irvine comes courtesy of chemist Reginald Penner, pictured above, and doctoral candidate Mya Le Thai. It’s a brand new battery design that may extend battery life and the longevity of battery units exponentially by using nanowires, specially made and coated lengths of gold that are insanely thin and, also pictured above, can be stacked into a spiral pattern and loaded to their high capacity with electricity without causing any interference.

In testing, a nanowire test sample was charged and discharged a mind-boggling 200,000 times without losing a single bit of power capacity. To put that into perspective, most people keep their smartphones about two years and charge them nightly. This means that the phones go through about 730 charge and discharge cycles, during which, depending on charging habits and usage, they can lose a significant amount of their power capacity. On top of the lack of degradation, nanowire batteries can be built in such a fashion as to have a significantly longer charge life than the lithium-ion batteries that are currently in wide use, as well as being able to be designed in almost any manner and placed almost anywhere due to the extremely small size of the nanowires.

The discovery that led to the longevity and usability of the nanowires actually came completely by accident while Mya and Penner were working on a nanowire battery design. While they tended to fail catastrophically after just a few thousand cycles, Mya decided to play around with more outlandish ways to extend capacity than mere design. She ended up coating a length of nanowire with an extremely thin layer of electrolytic gel and giving it a few thousand cycles. She was shocked to find that it just kept on ticking. 200,000 tests and 3 months later, the nanowire unit was still completely unharmed and performing like a champ. While it will take a good while before practical nanowire battery designs can become a reality, they have the potential to completely change the game when it comes to battery technology.