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Posted: March 19, 2009

The power of nanotechnology super batteries

(Nanowerk News) Imagine that, in the not-so-far distant future, Maryland rights its economy to become a teeming manufacturing center of next-generation “super batteries,” with state officials having the enviable task of deciding how many factories they want built to churn out these 21st-century power supplies for vehicles.
It’s not a far-fetched vision, says Gary Rubloff, the Minta Martin Professor of Engineering and director of the Maryland NanoCenter. Next-generation batteries based on novel nanotechnology devices developed at the University of Maryland could take as little as 10 years to appear in cars, Rubloff says. These modern batteries will be capable of storing enough electricity to eliminate the need for hybrid cars, which rely on gasoline as a backup.
The need to end America’s dependency on oil has become a national security issue as well as an economic and environmental imperative that President Barack Obama has vowed to address. Rubloff believes a multidisciplinary team of university researchers is poised to put Maryland at the forefront of finding a solution to this problem because they are focusing on electrical energy storage, an area often overlooked in the rush for renewable energy sources.
Renewable energy sources “are not very useful if you can’t store the electricity between the time it is captured and the time it is needed,” Rubloff says. Batteries on the market now can store energy from auxiliary solar panels to help light and heat a home. A much more powerful battery, however, is needed for more ambitious use of new energy sources linked to a regional power grid, says Sang Bok Lee, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry.
Rubloff and Lee are experimenting with nanowire structures—so small that 10 billion could fill 1 square centimeter. They have found several ways to exploit the honeycomb patterns of nanoscale pores in aluminum oxide in order to build new types of battery and capacitor devices. They can store a lot more energy, deliver more power and recharge faster than existing devices can.
The researchers said they foresee arrays of billions of their nanowires in super batteries that could power vehicles for long distances. Hybrid cars typically can travel 100 miles before dipping into gas reserves or needing to recharge for several hours. Lee says they hope to have a super battery that can power a car for 300 miles and take as little as five minutes to recharge at an electric station along the highway. With $4-per-gallon gasoline prices still fresh on consumers’ minds, auto makers are racing to deliver the most fuel-efficient, electric cars—a mission that could lead to a very green future for Maryland.
Source: University of Maryland