These lithium-ion microbatteries are super-chargers

Sometimes good things come in small packages. And sometimes those things are the most powerful batteries on the planet. Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have developed a tiny lithium-ion microbattery that leaves larger supercapacitors in the dust.

Using a three dimensional design, the mirobatteries pack a powerful punch into a small space. Researchers say that this development could mean big things for radio communications and compact electronics.

Broadcasting a radio or television signal used to require a lot of power in a short amount of time. On the other hand, listening to a portable radio requires a little power over a long period of time. Either way, the battery you have to use is likely to be more bulky than you’d prefer.

“There’s a sacrifice,” said James Pikul, a graduate student and first author of the paper. “If you want high energy you can’t get high power; if you want high power it’s very difficult to get high energy. But for very interesting applications, especially modern applications, you really need both. That’s what our batteries are starting to do. We’re really pushing into an area in the energy storage design space that is not currently available with technologies today.”

Pikul and his team achieved both high power and energy by using an internal three-dimensional microstructure. Building on a novel fast-charging cathode design by materials science and engineering professor Paul Braun’s group, King and Pikul developed a matching anode and then developed a new way to integrate the two components at the microscale to make a complete battery with superior performance.

The batteries are rechargeable and can charge 1,000 times faster than competing technologies – imagine juicing up a credit-card-thin phone in less than a second. In addition to consumer electronics, medical devices, lasers, sensors and other applications could see leaps forward in technology with such power sources available.

“Any kind of electronic device is limited by the size of the battery – until now,” said William P. King, Bliss Professor of mechanical science and engineering. “Consider personal medical devices and implants, where the battery is an enormous brick, and it’s connected to itty-bitty electronics and tiny wires. Now the battery is also tiny.”

* Beth Buczynski, EarthTechling