Batteries: They're the holy grail of energy storage in an era when your smartphone never seems to have enough juice to play another round of Angry Birds or finish that conference call.
Everyone, it seems, is working on developing a battery that has more storage and longevity.
That includes University of Central Florida Professor Jayan Thomas and post-doctoral student, Zenan Yu. They've developed a way to use fine copper wire to not only transmit electricity, but also store it.
To create the conduit-cum-storage wire, the UCF team coated a copper wire with a sheath of microscopic "nanowhiskers" treated with a special alloy that created a single electrode. To ensure ample energy storage, they created a second electrode by further encasing the "whiskered" wire with a fine plastic insulation, and yet again encased everything in a thin metal sheet.
"Because of the insulation, the nanowhisker layer is insulating," Thomas said. "The inner copper wire retains its ability to channel electricity. The layers around the wire independently store powerful energy."
In fact, because these layers store such powerful energy, they serve as a super capacitor, which can store enough energy to start a car or even a steamroller.
Thomas says copper is merely a starting point. Eventually, microscopic clothing fibers made from different materials could be developed that conceivably could conduct and store more energy. Until then, he says, conventional copper wires could be used in ordinary electronic gadgetry as well as in vehicles ranging from cars to space ships.
The research is so promising that it is the subject of the cover story in the June 30 issue of the science journal Advanced Materials, and the current issue of Nature magazine includes a detailed article about the technology.