Published on April 17th, 2013 | by James Ayre


New “Micro-Batteries” Show Great Potential, Now The Most Powerful Batteries On The Planet

April 17th, 2013 by  

Newly created “micro-batteries” that are only a few millimeters in size are now the most powerful batteries in the world. The new batteries, created by researchers at the University of Illinois, greatly out-power “even the best supercapacitors,” while being only a fraction of their size.

micro batteries most powerful batteries

“The graphic illustrates a high power battery technology from the University of Illinois. Ions flow between three-dimensional micro-electrodes in a lithium ion battery.”
Image Credit: Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology

“They pack such a punch that a driver could use a cellphone powered by these batteries to jump-start a dead car battery – and then recharge the phone in the blink of an eye,” a University of Illinois press release put out yesterday noted.

Sounds like a potentially significant technological improvement. Such batteries could certainly have a use in electric vehicles, and as a means of renewable energy storage, if they can be produced cheaply enough.

Professor William P. King. Image Credit: L. Brian Stauffer

Professor William P. King.
Image Credit: L. Brian Stauffer

“This is a whole new way to think about batteries,” said William P. King, University of Illinois professor of mechanical science and engineering. “A battery can deliver far more power than anybody ever thought. In recent decades, electronics have gotten small. The thinking parts of computers have gotten small. And the battery has lagged far behind. This is a microtechnology that could change all of that. Now the power source is as high-performance as the rest of it.”

What makes this new technology sound interesting though isn’t simply the increased power, it’s the potential for simultaneously possessing high power transmission and high energy storage. As of now, there’s a trade-off forced by technological limitations — it’s either one or the other, not both.

“There’s a sacrifice,” said James Pikul. “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.”

Some of the potential uses are certainly interesting: electronic devices as much as 30 times smaller, credit-card-thin cell phones that can recharge in a second, high-power lasers, portable high-power medical devices, etc.

What makes these batteries so much better than others? How did the researchers do it? I’ll let the University explain:

“The batteries owe their high performance to their internal three-dimensional microstructure. Batteries have two key components: the anode (minus side) and cathode (plus side). 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 researchers indicate that the batteries are indeed rechargeable and that they can charge approximately 1,000 times faster than competing technologies. That’s no incremental improvement, but we’ll see if they can bring the technology to market.

The researchers are currently working on developing a low-cost manufacturing paradigm for the technology.

The new technology is outlined in the April 16 issue of Nature Communications.

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About the Author

's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy. You can follow his work on Google+.

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  • tibi stibi

    3d batteries are as a concept not new. so what is new about this article?

  • Otis11

    So what’s the energy density of these batteries? “Powerful” means that it can (comparably) produce a lot of current, (at a given voltage of course) but for how long? I assume they had to make some sort of sacrifice for that…

    Also, how many cycles can it do before that micro-structure disappears or degrades?

    If they’re already looking into cost reductions for manufacturing they should have these numbers. (Mind asking?)

    • addicted4444

      Here is the abstract of the paper:
      “High-performance miniature power sources could enable new
      microelectronic systems. Here we report lithium ion microbatteries
      having power densities up to 7.4 mW cm−2 μm−1,
      which equals or exceeds that of the best supercapacitors, and which is
      2,000 times higher than that of other microbatteries. Our key insight is
      that the battery microarchitecture can concurrently optimize ion and
      electron transport for high-power delivery, realized here as a
      three-dimensional bicontinuous interdigitated microelectrodes. The
      battery microarchitecture affords trade-offs between power and energy
      density that result in a high-performance power source, and which is
      scalable to larger areas.”

      It’s published in Nature, so should be legit. However, PR releases tend to hype stuff dramatically, and ignore lots of the uncertainties. And, again, there are many roadblocks between doing it in the lab and bringing it to the mass market.

      • Otis11

        Sweet, thanks for the link!

        And yeah, there’s a big difference between the lab and the real world. Regardless of how this technology turns out, some battery technology will make it in the next decade – there’s just too many people trying and too much room for improvement for battery tech not to advance.

        • addicted4444

          Agreed. Besides, there are way too many highly profitable industries wanting this to happen (wearable electronics, phones, cars, etc).

          Like you said, something should work out. But I won’t place any bets on any individual technology.

          • yeah, betting on which of these breakthrough technologies breaks through the market best is not something i’d risk my money on. several of them now. and probably several more under the radar.

        • agreed. a ton of smart people trying to crack this nut… better & faster than anyone else.

        • Abdominal_Snowman

          I think that, technology wise, there is a high probably of getting the ~2x the stored energy for ~1/2 the cost, with 1/2 the weight and 1/4 the charge time that you would need for battery power cars to hit the big time. Probably within a few years actually. But I’m most concerned about oil companies buying the tech up and burying it. I don’t know how realistic of a concern that is, but I definitely don’t trust those people.

          • Bob_Wallace

            With EVs we need about 3x capacity at the same weight. That would give us a 180 – 200 mile range LEAF. Charge time now is not really a problem, with the rapid charging technology we now have you could drive all day (500 miles) with two <20 minute stops. (Got to eat, pee and check your messages anyway.)

            Cost will come down with increased manufacturing volume. Materials are not expensive and labor inputs will be low.

            I'm not worried about oil companies burying stuff. There are incredible fortunes to be made by whomever brings the best batteries to market. Microsoft is going to look like a mom and pop shop in comparison.

          • Otis11

            Plus, once you have the material and only have to recycle the batteries, they will get cheaper as well.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Interestingly, it’s apparently cheaper to use ‘new’ lithium than to recycle.

          • Otis11

            I think that’s because of the “economics of scale.”

            Currently there are so few lithium batteries being recycled, they can’t really scale it up, making things cost more, but for the ‘new’ Lithium, it’s already operating at fully commercial levels. As more and more batteries start being recycled, I expect this will change.

      • Abdominal_Snowman

        The original question was about energy density rather than power density, The best supercapacitors are still a long way behind lithium ion in terms of energy density. It’s not going to be much use having a powerful battery if it needs to way a tonne (literally) to give you decent range. But the claims seem to be that the batteries would be about 10x smaller for the same energy (dubious) so I suppose we have to assume they’re about 50x more energy dense than the best supercapacitors.

        • addicted4444

          Well, I know. The paper isn’t free to access. If you want that information that badly you are welcome to click the link I provided and pay the $40 yourself to find out.

          • Hans

            Or write an email to one of the authors and ask for a preprint.

        • MightyDrunken

          The Supplementary material is free to access.

          The table gives energy density as high as 15 μWh/cm^2 μm for their slow discharge micro battery, less for the faster batteries. μWh/cm^2 μm are strange units but they also give a graph with other batteries on it.

          This suggests that their high energy density A battery has the same energy density of a Nickel Zinc battery and less than a lithium ion battery. Not bad considering the small size but not a breakthrough in regards to energy density.

          This research matches other battery breakthroughs I have seen reported recently. Nano-technology allows the batteries to recharge/discharge a lot faster; the
          power density is not increased by much. Unfortunately bad reporting obscures these facts and it seems like more of a breakthrough then it is, these are super capacitor replacements.

          • Abdominal_Snowman

            It might be a method for the future then – if they concoct a more energy dense battery they may be able to give it a similar ‘micro treatment’ to make the charge time more acceptable.

    • Emailed.

  • Ross

    Wow, hope that one pans out.

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