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Researchers create flexible wires that could double as batteries

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June 4, 2014

Researchers have created wires with supercapacitance, which may eventually also double as ...

Researchers have created wires with supercapacitance, which may eventually also double as batteries (Image: UCF)

We literally live in a wired world, with wires snaking hither and yon transmitting electricity and data. Many are visible, while many more are hidden in the walls of buildings, the panels of cars, and the fuselage of aircraft. Now, imagine; what if we were able to turn each and every one of these into a battery that not only transmitted electricity but stored it too? Well, two researchers from the University of Central Florida (UCF) imagined that too, and came up with a way to use nano-technology to make wires with supercapacitance that may eventually also double as batteries.

Professor Jayan Thomas and his Ph.D. student Zenan Yu premised their design on their ability to grow "nanowhiskers" of copper oxide in a laboratory that would provide the conductive link between between the inner and outer layers of their supercapacitor wire.

The team first started by growing a layer of nanowhiskers from insulating copper oxide on an outer layer of a single copper wire. They then treated those whiskers with a gold-palladium alloy, before finally depositing an electrochemically active coating of manganese oxide on the alloy. As a result, the nanowires acted as a sheath to encapsulate the copper wire, and form the first electrode.

To add a second electrode to complete the energy storage device, the researchers coated the first electrode with a solid electrolyte and a polymer partition, and then fitted another cylindrical electrode around that. The second electrode was then formed in the same way as the first electrode, but nanowhiskers were molded on a copper foil that acted as the final conducting tube around the outside.

The practical upshot of this is that this wire – in a growing line of other wearable supercapacitors and weavable battery wires – may soon help make possible energy-storage devices and systems that are flexible, wearable and incorporated directly into clothing and textiles.

Light, bendable supercapacitor cables might also assist in making electronic devices even smaller and more portable than they are today, by vastly decreasing the size of batteries, or incorporating energy-storage wires throughout the device to replace the batteries altogether.

While more work is required, the technique the team used to grow the nanowhiskers should be transferable to other types of materials. The use of copper wire is only the beginning; it is envisioned that, as the technology progresses, other fibers and cables could be developed with similar nanostructures that also both transfer and store energy.

The team's research paper was printed in the journal Nature.

Source: UCF

About the Author
Colin Jeffrey Colin discovered technology at an early age, pulling apart clocks, radios, and the family TV. Despite his father's remonstrations that he never put anything back together, Colin went on to become an electronics engineer. Later he decided to get a degree in anthropology, and used that to do all manner of interesting things masquerading as work. Even later he took up sculpting, moved to the coast, and never learned to surf.   All articles by Colin Jeffrey
6 Comments

Nice idea, but the overwhelming use of wires is either to carry AC current or binary digital signals, both of which would, I assume, require the placement of a diode on each nano-wire for them to act as a battery/super capacitor, which I further assume would add to the cost a little and complicate matters a lot.

Of course, they would be on to a real winner if they could find a way of storing (and recovering) the digital information on each nano-wire. However, I think that the storage operation would slow the speed down to a probably unacceptable level for nearly every application. (It could take a record of the digital information stored on a wire and use it as a check-sum to check if the circuit had been compromised.) Sorry, went off on a tangents - again.

Mel Tisdale
5th June, 2014 @ 03:45 am PDT

How silly. So, so many problems from the supercap scam onward. apparently no one bothered to understand just how little power these can store assuming they actually work, a big assumption.

I can see someone bending over or spilling a glass of water and getting electrocuted!!

jerryd
5th June, 2014 @ 09:53 am PDT

Mel is right. This is still an interesting lab toy and not something that is actually good for much at this time. However, this work does add another interesting little widget to the design tool box. This seems like it needs some more parts to build something more complete.

StWils
5th June, 2014 @ 11:58 am PDT

From a safety point of view as an electrician, I'd be wary of shocks coming from residual charges remaining because of unsafe termination/removal of the wire when servicing. Also, leaking current to the outside of the jacket may result in electric shock when the insulation brakes down due to aging of the polymer coating, nicks/cuts/scrapes from poor handling, installation, and accidental breach.

Gary Richardson
5th June, 2014 @ 01:55 pm PDT

I cant see manufacturing those "wires" being cheaper than manufacturing wires and and a separate equivalent energy storage device.

Slowburn
5th June, 2014 @ 03:03 pm PDT

Mass produce, be huge, wires in car become battery.

Radical.

Stephen N Russell
5th June, 2014 @ 04:49 pm PDT
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