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back to article Battery-boosting breakthrough grows on trees – literally

Battery technology has stubbornly resisted major breakthoughs, but a team of researchers at the University of Maryland has found help from a most unlikely source: pine trees. In a paper published in the American Chemical Society's Nano News, the team describes an experiment they conducted which solves a number of the challenges …

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Anonymous Coward

Another one to add to the list.

"Boffins develop 'practically free' sulphur-powered batteries"

"Hot new battery technologies need a cooling off period"

"Boffins build ant-sized battery, claim it's tough enough to start a car"

"Doped nanotubes boost lithium battery power three-fold"

"Dying to make greener batteries"

"Korean boffins discover secret to quick-charge batteries"

"Stanford boosts century-old battery tech"

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Re: Another one to add to the list.

I guess a lot of people can see value in storing some of them there joules to even out supply and demand. I know what you mean, there are a lot of better battery articles, but that does rather suggest it is an important field. If all the minor advances could be nailed together it could be quite an exciting future.

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Unhappy

Re: Another one to add to the list.

""Boffins develop 'practically free' sulphur-powered batteries"

"Hot new battery technologies need a cooling off period"

"Boffins build ant-sized battery, claim it's tough enough to start a car"

"Doped nanotubes boost lithium battery power three-fold"

"Dying to make greener batteries"

"Korean boffins discover secret to quick-charge batteries"

"Stanford boosts century-old battery tech""

What he said.

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Re: Another one to add to the list.

Yep. What he said.

In the meantime, I'm not holding my breath.

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Re: Another one to add to the list.

All cynicism aside, this is an interesting proof of concept, with a relatively cheap ( there's still nanotubes in there...) solution to a serious technical hurdle. There's preciously little you can do to the mass of a sodium ion, after all. Something to do with laws of physics.

Battery R&D is one of the areas of boffinry that has an ever increasing impact on our lives, as more and more devices and gadgets we use including the IT related stuff become battery-powered. I can see why the Reg pays attention to it, but obviously some people seem to keep missing the point.

When there is a clear profit to be made, technology has a tendency to move really, really fast. ( or have people (already) forgotten how fast the industry most readers here work in developed..) And battery tech is a hot item. It is moving at a steady pace, and articles like this show that there's actual progress being made.

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Re: Another one to add to the list.

You missed this one: http://www.extremetech.com/computing/153614-new-lithium-ion-battery-design-thats-2000-times-more-powerful-recharges-1000-times-faster

If it gets developed and works half as well as the paper claims it will be a game changer but like others here I am not holding my breath waiting for it to come cheaply to a shop near me.

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Mushroom

Re: Another one to add to the list.

You missed one of my favourites.

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/10/08/nuclear_coin_battery/

Don't over charge it!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Another one to add to the list.

Battery research is nothing new and has been going on for years. Always with the promise of some extraordinary new method next year. Here is an article from a magazine in 1968 that could just as easily be in the modern pages of the register:

RECENT REPORTS suggest that it is likely that we shall have an electric battery car with a range of 120 to 250 miles and a maximum speed of 50 m.p.h. by spring of next year. Owners, we are told, will be able to refuel by calling at service stations where discharged cells will be replaced in less time than it takes to fill an ordinary car with petrol.

The greatest drawback of the electric car has been the heavy battery and the limited capacity of it. Now it is revealed that a new kind of cell -- zinc-air -- is to be used.

Of course, the idea of a battery car is by no means new, ... http://meccano.magazines.free.fr/html/1968/6802/68020102.htm

The 50mph might have been exceeded in the intervening 45 years but, according to Which magazine, "The electric cars here can manage between 60-100 miles (if driven carefully and without using the heating, air-con and other features)." Which were testing cars the evarage person might buy rather than those with a spare 50-100k lying around.

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Re: Another one to add to the list.

Well said. I'm sick hearing of these battery "breakthroughs". Been hearing them for years and we are still stuck with the same old battery tech (just optimized a bit - usually in software).

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Anonymous Coward

Re: we are still stuck with the same old battery tech

Are we?

Assuming that anyone had thought of buying any batteries before the shops closed for Christmas, I remember toys that were eaten away by the nasty, leaking, and dead things almost before Boxing Day was over. They gave way to "Leak-proofs," which were not leak proof, but at least resisted filling your toy with that nasty, smelly liquid for a bit longer, even if they didn't power it for longer.

It seems years went by before Duracell brought us batteries that powered a drumming bunny for a more than a few minutes, but they did, and the difference was noticeable. Of course, forgotten for long enough, they still leaked. And still do.

Rechargables have become every day items, and the various chemical abbreviations change so often, along with the necessary disciplines regarding whether they should be kept charged, allowed to run down, etc etc.

The changes may have been small, they may have been subtle, and we may not yet be able to carry a nuclear power plant in our phones, but progress has been made. So, without expecting to see them in the shops by the end of the week (or ever), lets welcome all the research maybes, because without them, we'll never have the one in a thousand that really does make a difference.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: we are still stuck with the same old battery tech

> The changes may have been small, they may have been subtle, and we may not yet be able to carry a nuclear power plant in our phones, but progress has been made.

These changes don't represent progress in battery technology. The represent progress in materials technology.

The chemicals used in alkaline batterys are essentially the same today as they where in the 1960's. The difference is that the chemicals/materials are purer and more consistent which leads to a greater power capacity. Hence your battery bunny lasts longer.

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If headlines actually delivered what they said, then...

...the entire earth would have virtually limitless electricty from the solar panels that have their efficiency boosted about every 6 months

...we'd all be going round in flying cars charged by solar with batteries that have a power/size equivilancy of petrol

...also I'd have file cabinets full of university diplomas, along with a hareem of Russian wives, and a 5 foot penis...

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Re: Another one to add to the list.

@AC 6th July 09:39 think about the then-acceptable fuel (in)efficiency of a 1968 gas-guzzler, and consider that one can greatly increase the range of any electric car by adding more batteries. However, that's at the expense of performance (more weight) and efficiency (more energy wasted speeding up and slowing down the extra battery mass).

I suspect that the top speed of 50mph had quite a bit to do with the weight of the batteries needed to get that range. A lot of progress HAS since been made. Today an electric car can be competitive on most fronts except range and capital cost, and perhaps the biggest thing holding e-cars back is the lack of a standardised national recharging infrastructure.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Another one to add to the list.

> A lot of progress HAS since been made.

Not that much. Here are the KWh per Kilogram values for various battery types:

Lead Acid: 0.035

Metal Hydride: 0.070

Lithium Ion/Polymer: 0.15

Zinc Air: 0.21

You can see that the zinc air battery, that the 1968 article talks about. has a better power/weight than today's Lithium batteries.

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Facepalm

Re: we are still stuck with the same old battery tech

So you expect to change how energy transfer works within physics? Yup, that would be quite some breakthrough!

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Re: When there is a clear profit to be made

There has always been a clear and substantial profit to be made in improving battery manufacturing.

Way back in the dark ages of computing (circa TRS Model 80-III) my high school chemistry teacher had just arrived from a gig in the industry. Between the weight, toxicity, and relatively poor performance of any battery, any company that could make a major breakthrough was going to make about half as much as Bill Gates (which given they actually manufacture stuff means they'd be shifting twice as much gear as he did). So they've always had really good people working on really intractable problems.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: progress in materials technology.

Point taken, but it is still progress of a kind.

(I wonder when they will think of capturing the energy we use in keyboard keypresses...)

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Anonymous Coward

Go Terps!

Go Terps!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Go Terps!

Go Die Twerps!

FTFY.

Signed,

Duke

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Anonymous Coward

"dropping from its initial capacity of 339 milliamp hours per gram to 145 mAH/g after 400 rechargings"

So if you are using it to store solar power to use when the Sun goes down then after about 400 days you've lost 58% of your storage capacity.

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Indeed, without knowing how much a regular sodium battery drops in capacity after 400 recharge cycles, it's impossible to know how good or bad this is.

I don't think I'll be replacing my LiFePO₄ cells anytime soon.

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yes but

If you know this, then you design the built system capacity to take account of the projected loss. For grid storage systems, the mass and physical size of the battery will not be an important consideration compared to the initial capital cost and ongoing maintenance/replacement costs.. As long as the capacity loss settles down to a known final lower value, you can plan for this.

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maybe ....

Or maybe you don't lose any capacity but your batteries start getting heavier...

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Perhaps some wear-leveling algorithms/circuitry combined with spare capacity, just like the solid-state drives today? I'm not an electrical engineer by any stretch of the imagination, so I'm sure there's some reason why that's an insurmountable issue or some such.

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Anonymous Coward

According to the supplementary materials a regular sodium battery drops off to 98mAh/g after 10 recharges. So this does represent an improvement in that respect.

The capacity continues dropping after 400 recharge cycles, just not as quickly as before.

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Being slightly less cynical for a moment.

Yes the test battery lost 52% of its storage battery in 400 cycles.

People, this is V 0.1 tech.

They are nowhere near a fully engineered system and I'd expect this to worked on if it goes anywhere at all.For a commercial system I'd expect a 5-10 year life as a minimum requirement.

Whenever I want to know how far battery tech has to go I just figure out (roughly) the volume

of a battery that is occupied by the electrons. It's currently less than 0.04%. All batteries are therefor capable of considerable improvement. Getting that onto the market is another matter.

So thumbs up and I'll wish them well.

So OK maybethis is the new battery tech that will change the world. but i won't be holding my breath

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Pint

Re: Being slightly less cynical for a moment.

I'm trying not to be overly skeptical, but this sounds about as right around the corner as that commercially viable fusion plant we keep hearing about.

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Alert

Re: Being slightly less cynical for a moment.

Careful arounding those corners there Katie... you're sailing dangerously close to lawsuit reef.

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Re: Being slightly less cynical for a moment.

I didn't read that as cynical, I read it as a criticism of the author being lazy and not including a reference for comparison.

Cynicism comes with age. Mostly because when you get to be an old fart like me, you've heard at least one of these "breakthrough" stories each month over the last 30 years and none of them have come to fruition.

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Collision damage?

"When a sodium ion slams into those electrodes it can do some serious damage – well, serious when compared with a lithium ion."

The abstract describes "large volume expansion with cycling".

The problem is not so much that sodium ions slam into the electrodes but that charging causes the anode to expand, creating stresses which lead to damage. With this new substrate, as the inventors put it, "The soft nature of wood fibers effectively releases the mechanical stresses associated with the sodiation process."

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Mushroom

Degradation

Many commercial Lithium based batteries have less charge cycles than some NiMH. After a year's use many are less than 50%.

I imagine the buffer material looks more like paper or toilet tissue. Pine can be made into paper. Though "good" paper has a lot of non-tree fibres, often recycled rag. Electrolytic capacitors used paper to hold electrolyte for maybe the last 90 years.

So I wonder exactly what is new about this.

We all know what happens with mismanaged batteries (even Turbo charged NiMH).

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Mushroom

Re: Degradation

reverse electrolytic confetti poppers.

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Anonymous Coward

Has anyone considered

Spinning the battery at OMGWTFRPM's and exploiting relativistic effects to change the effective mass of the ions so allowing a cheaper and lighter compound such as hydrogen to be used?

IIRC the increase in mass should be enough to make this work, so a H-ion battery becomes feasible if you are going fast enough.

At normal non relativistic speeds it wouldn't work of course.

AC

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Scientific research is shit

That seems the be the of most of the comments here. People who are studying the possibility of making a serious breakthrough in battery technology are the modern day equivalent of alchemists? It's pathetic.

None of the scientists who've come up with new theories of improving battery tech are claiming they've solved the problem. They are just suggesting new routes to explore. I thought that was a good thing, but here at thereg it seems that most people actively want it to fail.

I like reading Reg articles about battery ideas, but it's so depressing to see every comment section then filling up with smart arse comments from people who know bugger all. I'm not holding my breath either, because if I do that, I'll probably die inside 10 minutes max (I can actually only manage 45 seconds in any case). But if I could hold my breath for 15 years, I might just try to. As one earlier comment pointed out, the money has a tendency to follow where profits can follow. In the 70s, ideas like LED lighting seemed just as absurd and outlandish as some of the battery ideas, but LED lighting has turned commercial and will have a substantial impact. 3D printing looks likely to be equally significant, but Reg commenters would have described both as shit and told us proudly, "I'm holding my breath."

Basically, all I'm saying is this. Read the article about battery tech. Then shut the fuck up, and get on with your lives and maybe, just maybe something commercial will come along and maybe it won't. Nobody dies in the search for knowledge.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Nobody dies in the search for knowledge.

Actually, I think quite a few have, and do. Madame Curie comes to my unscientific-history mind for starters.

But yes, Absolutely agree with you. Every little counts, and every possibility is interesting. This is research being reported on, not some company expecting us to buy a spurious product today.

Science, Keep up the good work!

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Re: Scientific research is shit

i suspect the sceptical reactions are more out of frustration that the advancement here is not as fast as the doubling everything every few years software people have been spoiled with. And that this now limits how wasteful you can be on mobile gadgets.

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Anonymous Coward

*This* "scientific research" is shit

You're welcome.

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Re: Nobody dies in the search for knowledge.

"Madame Curie comes to my unscientific-history mind for starters."

Apparently Mme Curie was more radiation damaged whilst running unshielded X-Ray machines in a war zone, rather than her direct research activities.

Your point is still well made though.

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Unhappy

Re: Scientific research is shit

It's not the research that's deserving of derision, it's the reportage. If articles said," hey, look at this intersting bit of research," it would be fine. Instead, all research represents a 'breakthough' (including this one); one that seldom if ever happens. After a while, it becomes tedious and disappointing. Writers know that words like breakthrough mean something to people, and when they use them so cavalierly, people are going to weary of such constant disappointment.

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Re: are more out of frustration

No, it's deeper than that. I suspect most of the posters haven't quite crystalized the nagging suspicion into a thought. In fact, this one only came to me today as I was reading through the posts:

The so called "boffins" who peddle this sort of story to the press are like the IT sales guy we technicians have come to loathe. They oversell their possible breakthroughs and under-deliver on actual product. They subconsciously recognized the pattern even if they haven't expressed it. And at route the cause is the same. The sales guy is looking to pad his take home pay. The boffin is looking to fund his next round of research which also writes the checks for his take home pay. Now, there are probably lots of boffins out there who aren't doing that, but we don't hear about them because they are engaged in actual boffinry.

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I'VE GOT WOOD !!!

That is all...

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Re: I'VE GOT WOOD !!!

It's only funny if you've got wood for sheep.

H/T: http://www.catan.com/

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WTF?

Service Engineer to Customer

"" I'm Sorry Sir Your Battery Warranty is Invalid / Void . You live in a Termite infested area"""

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Incremental improvements

I would point the doubters to Sanyo Ni-MH 'eneloop' batteries which retain 90% charge after 1 year and 70% charge after 5 years so they are charged when you buy them.

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Re: Incremental improvements

Incremental improvements? I guess, if doubling cycle numbers since the first generation counts as incremental. It's an interesting tech - Wikipedia has a table of details on this line of batteries that shows quite dramatic improvements in some measures, such as number of charging cycles and charge reduction percentage after two years. I'd say it shows pretty significant progress.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eneloop#Comparison_table

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Pineing for the Fords

I am surprised there haven't been the obnvios references to Norway or Parrots as yet when it comes to the application of this tech to automative use.

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Anonymous Coward

Re. Eneloops

Hi,

I've run into these before. The secret is to never, ever overcharge them even once.

Overcharging NiMHs as happens in solar lamps will wreck them in less than a year, guaranteed.

NiCads don't suffer from this as badly as the excess energy goes into heat rather than destroying the anode through destructive electrolysis flaking off active material.

The same applies to lead acid, if never *discharged* below 50% SoC and charged according to the manufacturer's specifications then every so often applying an equalisation charge they last decades.

Case in point, car batteries are flooded lead acid with antimony to give high peak current and even they degrade after less than three "oops" events of overdischarge.

I actually designed code for solar lights that makes the batteries last until the solar panels fall apart, using a PIC 10F200 but it isn't commercially viable because the chip adds too much to the cost.

Even a single transistor crowbar would be too expensive here sadly.

Same reason why cheap lights often have soldered batteries and unencapsulated PCBs which rust.

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Advances in battery tech are all very well

... but when will boffins discover a way to build a Register site that doesn't require users to sign in again three or four times a day?

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or an android app

That accommodates multitasking...

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Another hard hittting article from...

The Register's Flower Power office in San Francisco.

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