Student creates rechargeable battery with potential 400-year lifespan on accident

March 19th, 2021

Often we overlook the years of work, research, failure, and the final discovery that led to the products we use each and every day.

Products that have changed how we operate as a society and even as individuals. Shifting the ways we think, how quickly we can share information or communicate with others, and even changing the ways we are able to make money.

Tech never ceases to amaze.

Although we’ve come so far with our technology, it was only a few short years ago researchers started making little discoveries that have led to huge changes.

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Photo by ThisIsEngineering from Pexels Source: Photo by ThisIsEngineering from Pexels

The University of California researchers were playing around with nanowire-based battery material and the potential of being charged hundreds to thousands of times.

Their end-goal wasn’t easy to achieve.

Doing this research with hopes of creating a battery that would never require replacement over time. This would change battery lifespans for our phones, computers, cars, appliances basically the entire world around us.

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Photo by ThisIsEngineering from Pexels Source: Photo by ThisIsEngineering from Pexels

Little did we know what scientists were up against in hopes of giving us longer-lasting batteries.

According to UCI, scientists and researchers have been trying for years to find out how to use nanowires in batteries. However, the tricky part is they are extremely fragile as they are thinner than human hair!

But they are so sought after by scientists because they are highly conductive and have a large surface area for storing and transferring electrons. As these nanowires are very delicate, the dilemma is they don’t last over time with repeated recharging, discharging, and cycling.

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“Hard work combined with serendipity paid off in this case” – Reginald Penner.

Yet, no matter how many failures these scientists never quit trying to find new ways to innovate and change the way life around us operates. Every failure leading them to discovery, hopefully becoming closer to their final goal.

One researcher finally made the discovery. News UCI reports for this issue,

“UCI researchers have solved this problem by coating a gold nanowire in a manganese dioxide shell and encasing the assembly in an electrolyte made of a Plexiglas-like gel. The combination is reliable and resistant to failure.”

Although many scientists worked on this problem, one specific scientist is to thank for the final discovery.

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Photo by Edward Jenner from Pexels Source: Photo by Edward Jenner from Pexels

Thai reminds us that simply playing around can bring new incredible discoveries.

That scientist’s name is Mya LeThai, who at the time was a study leader and a UCI doctoral candidate. The chair of UCI’s chemistry department Reginald Penner recalls the moment to News UCI,

“Mya was playing around, and she coated this whole thing with a very thin gel layer and started to cycle it…She discovered that just by using this gel, she could cycle it hundreds of thousands of times without losing any capacity.”

He continued,

“That was crazy because these things typically die in dramatic fashion after 5,000 or 6,000 or 7,000 cycles at most.”

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Photo by ThisIsEngineering from Pexels Source: Photo by ThisIsEngineering from Pexels

In the lab, these researchers observed that the goo plasticizes the metal oxide in the battery which gives it elasticity. This flexibility in turn helps to prevent cracking. Thai states,

“The coated electrode holds its shape much better, making it a more reliable option. This research proves that a nanowire-based battery electrode can have a long lifetime and that we can make these kinds of batteries a reality.”

We have already come pretty far since the discovery, too.

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Photo by ThisIsEngineering from Pexels Source: Photo by ThisIsEngineering from Pexels

Turns out, more inventions than you may think have been discovered by accident or by play.

Sometimes, when scientists are playing or trying to find one thing, they discover they end up creating something totally new instead. Here are some things ATI reports that were happy accidents,

  • Microwaves
  • Potato chips
  • Pacemakers
  • Matches
  • Post-its
  • Popsicles
  • Slinky
  • Penicillin
  • Velcro
  • Super Glue

And the list goes on!

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Photo by Polina Tankilevitch from Pexels Source: Photo by Polina Tankilevitch from Pexels

An average laptop battery used to only last 300 to 500 charge cycles.

When they made this discovery, the new nano battery had the capability to make it through 200,000 cycles in three months. Which extended the average laptop battery life to approximately 400 years! Longer than we will ever need.

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Steve Zylius / UCI Source: Steve Zylius / UCI

PR Newswire reports that the nanowire battery market is predicted to grow from $53 million in 2021 to $243 million by 2026. Most of the increase is fueled by electric vehicles advancing in those 4 to 5 years.

Just to think, this nanowire described as thinner than a human hair making such a tremendous change in the world around us as we know it, all discovered by a lot of hard work and a little bit of play.

Learn more about this fascinating discovery below!

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Source: Youtube, UCI News, Good, Pexels, ATI, PR Newswire