It’s hard to resist the tug of a smile when imagining electrical engineers playing with silly putty. Dismiss the grin, switch playful imagination for objectivity, and we see the reality of the situation. The engineers of Riverside Bourns College of Engineering are actually researching ways to improve the efficiency of batteries with the aid of a compound found within silly putty. Thanks to this research, the nervous twitch of focus from smartphone screen to flashing low-battery icon may soon be a thing of the past.
Maximizing the Life of the Lithium Ion Battery
Used in countless mobile devices, the lithium ion battery is popular for its small dimensions and high capacity output. News headlines are sending ripples of interest throughout the electronics industry with talk of a novel way of tripling the life of these popular batteries. All that’s required is the introduction of a novel material found within the pliable toy known as silly putty. Of course, the engineering involved is a touch more complex than mixing the substance with the innards of a Li-Ion battery. In short, it’s molecular chemistry to the rescue.
Nanotube Designed for Longer Life
Revolutionizing portable energy storage technology is no small matter. Some believe the perfect battery to be the Holy Grail of mobile technology, enabling frustrated commuters to use their tablets and smartphones all day on a single charge. Imagine watching multiple high-definition movies on a skinny mobile device during a Trans-Atlantic flight, or playing a processor-intensive game during the same flight. Silicon dioxide, a chemical component of silly putty, is the key to making these mobile dreams a reality. Engineers have uncovered the full potential of silicon dioxide as a super-efficient anode by altering its molecular structure. This involves forming the silicon dioxide molecules into intricate nanotube lattices. The consequent improvement to anodes due to this molecular engineering magic could potentially result in storage gains of 3 times as much energy as standard Li-Ion batteries.
Market Realistic Makeup
Producing nanometer-scale silicon dioxide nanotubes presents something of a challenge considering the base of usage for lithium ion batteries. Every digital SLR camera, major smartphone manufacturer, and laptop computer company uses this form of power source. Developing practical anodes made from nanotubes of silicon dioxide, uniform molecular structures made of this primary ingredient of silly putty, is going to take time and investment. But the potential is huge. Silicon, as all semiconductor companies are aware, is an abundant element. It’s also non-toxic and easy to work with as it’s used in the electronic circuitry of so many devices.
Breakthroughs in battery technology reap high rewards for investors. Simply put, this is the final frontier in creating the perfect mobile product. The exotic materials and complex chemical soups utilized in these power sources already deliver a remarkable energy output and long life but not enough to cope with an entire day’s heavy usage. Utilizing this plentiful material found in silly putty could be the key to leaving battery chargers at home, to reducing energy consumption and being truly environmentally friendly in an age where the mobile device is valued above all else.
If you’ve flown in the past year or two, you may have noticed that one of the new airline safety warnings many airlines are issuing concern over is the presence of lithium ion batteries. Numerous airlines instruct passengers not to leave loose lithium batteries in their luggage. So, just how much of an airline safety threat are these types of batteries and why the recent increase in concern over them?
Lithium ion batteries are especially susceptible to explosion or fire, and are much more powerful than traditional disposable batteries. These rechargeable batteries are increasingly replacing other battery technology in modern electronic devices, including phones, tablets, and laptops. However, loose AA or AAA type rechargeable batteries remain the biggest threat to airplanes.
Fortunately, there isn’t much to worry with while using these batteries at home. Nevertheless, a couple factors relating to flying exacerbate the problem and make them a major airline safety issue. One concern is that loose batteries rolling around in luggage can make contact with other metal objects and start to discharge. For instance, a fire in one man’s luggage last year started when a loose battery accidentally made contact with a screwdriver. Loose batteries can also come in contact with each other and short circuit.
Another factor in airline battery fires is the high altitude and low pressure. Well-made, brand name batteries don’t pose much of a risk, but cheap off-brand batteries have had a variety of instances of small explosions. Airlines recommend passengers travel only with brand name batteries from known manufacturers. By packing batteries in their carry-on luggage, passengers can ensure that their batteries stay pressurized. Some aircrafts pressurize the baggage compartment and others don’t, so it’s safer to keep batteries in the carry-on luggage in the pressurized area of an airplane.
Taking basic measures to pack well can ensure you don’t fall victim to battery problems. Airlines and governments are working to inform passengers of the potential airline safety risks of loose batteries. Banning lithium batteries would be extremely inconvenient, and probably an impossible solution to resolve battery fire concern. It’s also worth noting that although several instances of battery fires have been reported, these represent only a tiny sample of flights, and make up less than one in a million batteries that will catch fire or explode. Yet, one airplane fire that gets out of hand could be disastrous, so it’s best to invest in prevention early on. Due to the impracticality of banning batteries, the responsibility rests with each traveler to pack responsibly.
Rechargeable batteries enclosed in devices like a phone or tablet pose less of a threat than external batteries. Looking to the future, increased battery capacity in mobile devices could pose more of an airline safety threat as well. However, increases in efficiency and heat management should hopefully reduce this potential. It’s unclear what the long-term threat from batteries will be, but careful prevention now will preclude future problems.
As the leaves begin to change color and drop off the trees, you’re probably getting ready to retire your motorcycle, boat, four-wheeler or personal water craft until spring. With a little routine maintenance on the battery, you can make sure it’ll be ready to go once the warmer weather starts to approach. Follow these simple tips to ensure that your battery survives the winter. You’ll find that putting in a little extra effort on basic prevention will benefit you in the long run and you can avoid purchasing a battery every spring. (more…)