March 2, 2010
Yi Cui, an engineer at Stanford University, leads a team that may take nanotechnology to the next level by creating paper batteries and fabrics that can conduct energy. At a recent demonstration, Cui took pieces of fabric and regular paper and soaked them in an ink that contains nanoparticles. The infusion of these particles into every day porous items is the key to opening possibilities for cheap batteries made of paper as well as lighter super capacitors.
Another application, called eTextiles, refers to fabrics that retain their original properties, yet store and conduct energy. Naturally, this technology is in its infancy but, the possibilities are enormous. Cui believes that the future of eTextiles is everything from draperies that store energy to t-shirts that recharge iPods to soldier’s uniforms powered by nanotechnology.
Nanoparticles are not something that the human eye can see and are created by combining various compounds in nano scale. For example, a paper battery would include lithium, cobalt and oxygen. While the battery technology is the same old deal, what Cui’s team is looking for are ways to not just store energy, but to make it cheaper, lighter, greener and more adaptable. Theory is no longer the object; Cui’s group is concentrating on practicability.
Nanotechnology can easily take the batteries of today and transform them from relatively heavy metal products into lightweight paper. Replacing carbon found in today’s lithium batteries with silicon nanowires can increase the battery’s storage abilities by ten times. Silicon was the first material to be tested for this, but it simply does not sustain physical and chemical stressors as well. Silicon was found to break down quickly and thus lose the majority of its storage ability.
Cui and his research team members had previously proven that using battery electrodes that incorporate silicon nanowires were far better at absorbing and releasing lithium ions than just silicon by itself. These discoveries were featured in articles in Nature, Nanotechnology and Nano Letters. The future could hold the ability to develop lithium batteries that are rechargeable, but more importantly, have far better storage capacities and lengthier life spans than today’s batteries do. Nanowire applications could help to recharge the future of electric cars and medical devices that are implanted in the body.
While much nanotechnology research has concentrated on theoretical possibilities and hard science queries, this is not the road that Cui and his team opt to pursue. Their interest is in continuing to plumb the depths of nanoscience in order to create newer and better practical applications. The low cost materials combined with the bleeding edge nanotechnology could have enormous positive ramifications for the future of world.