staff, December 14, 2014

When it comes to building a better battery, researchers at the University of Maryland are discovering that it?s the little things that matter.

?Our original thinking was about making batteries smaller,? said Eleanor Gillette, a Maryland student working on the project. ?We wanted to understand what the limiting dimensions are. How small can we go before we are using every piece of material we put in??

With smallness as their target, a team of UMD chemists and material scientists worked together to develop a ?nanopore? battery. Essentially, that involves taking a microscopically thin ceramic sheet pierced with millions of tiny holes (or nanopores), each of which is ?80,000 times smaller than a human hair,? according to Gillette.

Those nanopores hold electrolytes that can be used to connect electrodes and create a charge. The battery itself, the ceramic sheet, is the size and thickness of a postage stamp, and it takes up considerably less space than even the best cellphone batteries of today.

According to the research paper, the batteries can be charged in 12 minutes and be recharged thousands of times. Additionally, they can be stacked, creating an even more powerful battery that?s still miniscule in relation to current energy-storage units.

The next step for the project is to figure out how to make the nanopore device viable for practical, commercial applications.

?Right now, it is too small to run your cellphone, but in theory we could scale them up and it would work in similar fashion to a cellphone battery,? Gillette said. ?We would need to have a larger surface area or pack them on top of each other. That is what we are thinking about, how to make them useful in someone?s daily life.?

The initiative sits within the Maryland NanoCenter, a partnership between the university?s A. James Clark School of Engineering and The College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences. The organization promotes nanotechnology education and supplies the infrastructure for nano-fabrication and related activities that can make modern technology smaller. Funding for the project came from Nanostructures for Electrical Energy Storage, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.

[btn-post-package]While the research is supported by Maryland professors Gary Rubloff (material sciences and engineering) and Sang Bok Lee (chemistry, biochemistry and material sciences), most of the development of the nanopore battery has been done by Ph.D. students. The research team includes first author Chanyuan Liu, a Ph.D. candidate in materials science and engineering, along with six other students, including Gillette.

?This was a student-led project,? Gillette said. ?We determined what we were working with, getting them set up, making the devices actually work. Students developed the entire project.?