updated 10:45 am EDT, Wed August 9, 2006
The daily ritual for most consumer electronics involves recharging almost anything used for a significant amount of time. While most of us would attribute this to battery life, the amount of running time isn't the only factor in our constant need to recharge. The time spent recharging is at least as important; when a battery may take two to four hours to reach full capacity, forgetting to charge an iPod or laptop in advance could render it useless the next day. Researchers at MIT may have a solution in nanotube batteries. Traditional batteries, such as those made with nickel metal hydride (NiMH) or lithium-ion, depend on a chemcial reaction to produce electricity; there can only be so many reactions before the chemicals are effectively inert and the battery needs to be tossed aside. The MIT design takes a very different approach. It uses capacitors covered in millions of nanotubes each. This gives the capacitors much more surface area to store energy than was previously possible and avoids the inherently limited lifespan of chemical batteries. Read on for the very positive consequences.
Based on testing, nanotubes could well let batteries recharge in seconds, not hours - and could be recharged so many times that the device itself could fail well before its battery does. Removable batteries in digital audio players such as the iPod could be a non-issue, and laptop buyers would no longer face the dilemma of choosing either an expensive new battery or a whole new computer. Nanotube designs also apply to batteries as large as those on electric and hybrid cars, offering the possibility of more efficient and longer-lasting electric motor systems. Researchers estimate that we could see production nanotube batteries within five years.