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You are here: > News > September 14, 2006

Brown engineers build a better battery -- with plastic

It's thin, light, flexible -- and plastic. Brown University engineers have created a prototype polymer-based battery that packs more power than a standard alkaline battery and more storage capacity than a double-layered capacitor.

A prototype of a new hybrid battery, created at Brown University, combines elements of a standard battery and a capacitor.

Credit: John Abromowski/Brown University

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PROVIDENCE, R.I., USA -- Brown University engineers have created a new battery that uses plastic rather than metal to conduct electrical current. The hybrid device marries the power of a capacitor with the storage capacity of a battery.

A description of the prototype is published in Advanced Materials.

"Batteries have limits," said Tayhas Palmore, an associate professor in Brown's Division of Engineering. "They have to be recharged. They can be expensive. Most of all, they don't deliver a lot of power.

Palmore went on to contrast the limits of batteries with the complementary strength and limitation of capacitors. Found in electronic devices, these components can deliver that big blast of power. However, capacitors don’t have the ability to store electrical energy.

"So, what if you combined elements of both a battery and a capacitor?"

That's the question Palmore set out to answer in co-operation with Hyun-Kon Song, a former postdoctoral research associate at Brown who now works as a researcher at LG Chem, Ltd. The two scientists began to experiment with a new energy-storage system using a substance called polypyrrole, one of two main types of a conducting polymers. Like polyacytelene and copolymers of similar structure, polypyrrole (Ppy) belongs to the rigid-rod polymer family and is able to carry an electrical current.

In their experiments, Palmore and Song took a thin strip of gold-coated plastic film and covered the tip with polypyrrole and a substance that alters its conductive properties. The process was repeated, this time using another kind of conduction-altering chemical. The result: Two strips with different polymer tips. The plastic strips were then stuck together, separated by a papery membrane to prevent a short circuit.

Tayhas Palmore, an associate professor of engineering at Brown University, along with Hyun-Kon Song, a former Brown postdoctoral research associate, figured out how to combine the advantages of batteries and capacitors in a plastic hybrid.

Credit: John Abromowski/Brown University

The result is a hybrid. Like a capacitor, the “sandwich” of thin layers of different materials including PPy and plastic can be rapidly charged then discharged to deliver power. Like a battery, this copolymer sandwich can store and deliver that charge over long periods of time. During performance testing, the new battery performed like a hybrid, too. It had twice the storage capacity of an electric double-layer capacitor. And it delivered more than 100 times the power of a standard alkaline battery.

The report does not elaborate on the significance or role of the thin layer of gold coating this plastic film. Apparently, however, due to the presence of this element, the new hybrid battery/capacitors are not entirely without metal. If the gold is required to make them function, they would not be as cheap to manufacture as if they were entirely non-metallic.

Palmore said the new battery's form, as well as its function, is exciting. In width and height, it is smaller than an iPod Nano. And it's thinner, about as slim as an overhead transparency.

"You start thinking about this polymer and you start thinking that you can create batteries everywhere out of it," Palmore said. She went on to speculate that this material could be used to wrap cell phones and other electronic devices. “Conceivably, you could even make fabric out of this composite," she suggested, without specifying what uses such material might have.

Palmore admitted that some performance problems – such as decreased storage capacity after repeated recharging – must be overcome before the device is marketable. But she expects strong interest. Battery makers are always looking for new ways to store and deliver power more efficiently. NASA and the U.S. Air Force are also exploring polymer-based batteries.

"What we've got is a good concept," Palmore said. "Put electroactive molecules into conducting polymers and you can come up with all sorts of interesting materials that store energy."

The National Science Foundation funded the work.

# # #




  • Plastic Batteries Coming Soon? - Slashdot discussion, Sept. 16, 2006. "Engineers at Brown University have built a prototype of a hybrid plastic battery that uses a conductive polymer. The system, which marries the power of a capacitor with the storage capacity of a battery, can store and deliver power efficiently. For example, during performance testing, 'it delivered more than 100 times the power of a standard alkaline battery.' Still, it's unlikely that such a device can appear on the market before several years."

See also

Page posted by Sterling D. Allan Sept. 13, 2006
Last updated December 24, 2014





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