Nanowire batteries and bionic spinach

Nanowire batteries and bionic spinach

Nanowire batteries

A recent Gizmodo article covered a new discovery in battery manufacturing using nanowires. Regular lithium ion batteries degrade over time as lithium deposits form on the electrodes, making it harder for charge to be effectively stored within the cell. However with this discovery there is potential to manufacture a battery that will never need replacing. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

Scientists have wondered if nanowires could help boost the capacity of batteries for a while now, because their large surface area in a small volume could allow them to hold large quantities of charge when used as electrodes. But because they’re so fine, they’ve proven particularly susceptible to the damage caused by dendrites of lithium.

Now, though, researchers from University of California, Irvine have created electrode nanowires using a thin core of gold, surrounded by layers of manganese dioxide and a Plexiglas-like electrolyte gel. In three months of testing, the team found that they were able to charge and discharge a simple cell made from the wires over 200,000 times without any damage or loss in capacity. For a little context, most modern li-on cells begin to give up after a few thousand cycles. Their results are published in ACS Energy Letters.

The technology is for now just a lab-based experiment. But the researchers hope that the technology could usher in a new breed of rechargeable batteries that never need to be replaced.

If this technology makes it out of the lab and into a consumer product, it could mean rechargeable batteries that maintain their performance indefinitely. On a larger scale, this could drastically improve the situation with larger automotive and home batteries that pose a dangerous risk to the environment once their life span is up.


Nano-enhanced Spinach

An article in The Guardian wrote how nanotubes are being used in novel ways to increase the photosynthesis of plants like spinach:

Plants have much more efficient machinery for harvesting sunlight than any human-made solar energy device. However, they use only a small part of the solar spectrum and so scientists at MIT suggest that adding carbon nanotubes, which capture light over a wide spectral range from ultraviolet to near-infrared, could enhance natural photosynthesis.

The team tried this out on spinach plants and found that injecting leaves with nanotubes boosted their “photocurrent” – a measure of their photosynthetic activity – by 30%. (The team also showed that adding nanotubes can turn plant leaves into real-time detectors for environmental pollutants such as nitric oxide.)

Hopefully the teams developing this nanotech can push the boundaries with consumer products in the near future.

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