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Researchers at MIT strive to make today’s batteries obsolete

A team of researchers at MIT are working to make today’s batteries as extinct as the dodo bird. The researchers have been using acetylene gas to deposit carbon nanotubes onto silicon. The carbon nanotubes are then able to store as much if not more energy than today’s traditional lead or lithium batteries, but can be recharged hundreds of thousands of times unlike current battery technology which fails after a few thousand recharges at best.

The researchers have also tackled the manufacturing hurdle by depositing the nanotubes on silicon much in the same way current silicon parts are made making mass production more feasible than in the past. One major difference, however, is that the nanotube on silicon batteries actually act more like capacitors then traditional batteries. Capacitors, unlike batteries store less energy and discharge rapidly however can be recharged quickly. The team speculates that if they are able to make a large enough capacitor that it will function much like current batteries do.

Not surprisingly, there are some dissenters to the new technology.  A Researcher from the University of California at Davis has his doubts about the feasibility of such technology and doesn't see it making any significant inroads on existing batteries. reports:

Andrew Burke, research engineer at the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California at Davis, said that the new capacitors would have to be many times more powerful than any previously created. "I have a lot of respect for those guys, but I have not seen any data," Burke said. "Until I see the data, I'm inclined to be skeptical." Even if Schindall's capacitors work, he doubts they'll transform the electronics industry overnight. Companies have too much invested in today's battery systems, and it would take years before carbon nanotube capacitors could be mass-produced.

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Discharge characteristics?
By bobsmith1492 on 6/27/2006 10:21:48 AM , Rating: 2
Hm, capacitors discharge logarithmically; I could see more expensive power conditioning, as the device would have to deal with a broader range of input voltages unlike current batteries, which maintain a pretty flat discharge voltage until they're about to die. It would be doable, of course; these would indeed have to be some pretty dense capacitors, though. Several farads would be needed to do anything useful I'd imagine.

RE: Discharge characteristics?
By saratoga on 6/27/2006 3:17:41 PM , Rating: 2
unlike current batteries, which maintain a pretty flat discharge voltage until they're about to die.

This isn't really true. Both systems have comparable curves under realistic load (which will cause the battery voltage to drop off very rapidly with time). Its just that batteries "die" when they still have a lot of power left in them, so you never see the long tail end of the curve.

I doubt the conditioning already used on electronic devices would have to be substantially different.

RE: Discharge characteristics?
By bobsmith1492 on 6/27/2006 5:07:10 PM , Rating: 3
Well, I did a quick Google on it and from this page:
the batteries sure seem to have a more-or-less flat discharge curve before hitting a drop-off point. It's definitely not logarithmic like a capacitor. The tail-end of the curve you speak of occurs after a battery has been "used up"-it would still have power in it, but the voltage drops off quickly enough that it becomes unuseable without more complicated conditioning (boost/buck regulators or whatnot), which is the same problem you would have right away with a charged capacitor.

RE: Discharge characteristics?
By bobsmith1492 on 6/27/2006 5:11:04 PM , Rating: 2
RE: Discharge characteristics?
By TomZ on 6/27/2006 9:36:37 PM , Rating: 2
I don't see this as a big issue, since it is very easy these days to construct highly-efficient buck-boost power supplies that can handle battery/cap input voltages both above and below the output voltage required by the circuit.

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