David Kirkpatrick

February 20, 2010

Paper batteries and eTextiles

The 2010 AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) annual meeting is going on as I type, so there is a lot of news coming out fast and furious from the conference. I’m going to try and restrain myself and only post what really strikes my fancy, or what sounds like a game-changing advancement in any particular field.

Like I regularly do, this news will presented in the form of the raw press release. Yeah, it’s a bit lazy to drop the release on you with minimal, if any, commentary from me, but I don’t want to be a gatekeeper of the information being put out and I don’t want to spin the news by selectively writing from a release. With a raw release you get all the information the organization/scientist/whoever put the release out wanted to make public and you can use that information as you see fit. Do keep in mind any release is going to have some manner of bias, even science releases, so read them with that in mind, but do enjoy this exciting news as it comes out.

This release is on nanotechnology and how it is allowing for paper batteries and supercapacitors and is creating a new fabric technology called “eTextiles.”

The release:

Nanotechnology sparks energy storage on paper and cloth

Stanford researcher Yi Cui and his team are re-conceptualizing batteries using nanotechnology

IMAGE: Bing Hu, a post-doctoral fellow in Yi Cui’s research group at Stanford, prepares a small square of ordinary paper with an ink that will deposit nanotubes on the surface that…

Click here for more information.

By dipping ordinary paper or fabric in a special ink infused with nanoparticles, Stanford engineer Yi Cui has found a way to cheaply and efficiently manufacture lightweight paper batteries and supercapacitors (which, like batteries, store energy, but by electrostatic rather than chemical means), as well as stretchable, conductive textiles known as “eTextiles” – capable of storing energy while retaining the mechanical properties of ordinary paper or fabric.

While the technology is still new, Cui’s team has envisioned numerous functional uses for their inventions. Homes of the future could one day be lined with energy-storing wallpaper. Gadget lovers would be able to charge their portable appliances on the go, simply plugging them into an outlet woven into their T-shirts. Energy textiles might also be used to create moving-display apparel, reactive high-performance sportswear and wearable power for a soldier’s battle gear.

The key ingredients in developing these high-tech products are not visible to the human eye. Nanostructures, which can be assembled in patterns that allow them to transport electricity, may provide the solutions to a number of problems encountered with electrical storage devices currently available on the market.

The type of nanoparticle used in the Cui group’s experimental devices varies according to the intended function of the product – lithium cobalt oxide is a common compound used for batteries, while single-walled carbon nanotubes, or SWNTs, are used for supercapacitors.

Cui, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering at Stanford, leads a research group that investigates new applications of nanoscale materials. The objective, said Cui, is not only to supply answers to theoretical inquiries but also to pursue projects with practical value. Recently, his team has focused on ways to integrate nanotechnology into the realm of energy development.

“Energy storage is a pretty old research field,” said Cui. “Supercapacitors, batteries – those things are old. How do you really make a revolutionary impact in this field? It requires quite a dramatic difference of thinking.”

While electrical energy storage devices have come a long way since Alessandro Volta debuted the world’s first electrical cell in 1800, the technology is facing yet another revolution. Current methods of manufacturing energy storage devices can be capital intensive and environmentally hazardous, and the end products have noticeable performance constraints – conventional lithium ion batteries have a limited storage capacity and are costly to manufacture, while traditional capacitors provide high power but at the expense of energy storage capacity.

With a little help from new science, the batteries of the future may not look anything like the bulky metal units we’ve grown accustomed to. Nanotechnology is favored as a remedy both for its economic appeal and its capability to improve energy performance in devices that integrate it. Replacing the carbon (graphite) anodes found in lithium ion batteries with anodes of silicon nanowires, for example, has the potential to increase their storage capacity by 10 times, according to experiments conducted by Cui’s team.

Silicon had previously been recognized as a favorable anode material because it can hold a larger amount of lithium than carbon. But applications of silicon were limited by its inability to sustain physical stress – namely, the fourfold volume increase that silicon undergoes when lithium ions attach themselves to a silicon anode in the process of charging a battery, as well as the shrinkage that occurs when lithium ions are drawn out as it discharges. The result was that silicon structures would disintegrate, causing anodes of this material to lose much if not all of their storage capacity.

Cui and collaborators demonstrated in previous publications in Nature, Nanotechnology and Nano Letters that the use of silicon nanowire battery electrodes, mechanically capable of withstanding the absorption and discharge of lithium ions, was one way to sidestep the problem.

The findings hold promise for the development of rechargeable lithium batteries offering a longer life cycle and higher energy capacity than their contemporaries. Silicon nanowire technology may one day find a home in electric cars, portable electronic devices and implantable medical appliances.

Cui now hopes to direct his research toward studying both the “hard science” behind the electrical properties of nanomaterials and designing real-world applications.

“This is the right time to really see what we learn from nanoscience and do practical applications that are extremely promising,” said Cui. “The beauty of this is, it combines the lowest cost technology that you can find to the highest tech nanotechnology to produce something great. I think this is a very exciting idea … a huge impact for society.”

###

The Cui group’s latest research on energy storage devices was detailed in papers published in the online editions of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in December 2009 (“Highly Conductive Paper for Energy-Storage Devices”) and Nano Letters in January 2010 (“Stretchable, Porous and Conductive Energy Textiles”).

Cui’s talk at the symposium “Nanotechnology: Will Nanomaterials Revolutionize Energy Applications?” is scheduled for 9:50 a.m. Feb. 20 in Room 1B of the San Diego Convention Center.

Video/photos:
Conductive eTextiles: Stanford finds a new use for cloth
http://news.stanford.edu/news/2010/february1/batteries-from-cloth-020510.html

At Stanford, nanotubes + ink + paper = instant battery
http://news.stanford.edu/news/2009/december7/nanotubes-ink-paper-120709.html

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