One of the biggest weaknesses of today's battery technologies are their power-to-weight ratio. If you want to go fast or far, you need to carry a lot of heavy batteries with you. But a team of scientists from MIT have made a discovery that could signal the beginning of an entirely new age of energy storage technology. We want to say just one word to you... just one word. Are you listening? Nanotubes.
Nanotubes are hollow carbon tubules about a billionth of a foot in diameter. They're one of the strongest substances on earth and one of the best conductors around. In fact, they can handle an electrical current density about 1000 times greater than copper. Now, the team from MIT says that carbon nanotubes have proven they could hold the key to super-powerful or super-lightweight batteries in the future. They're not the only ones working on nanotube batteries, but they do have a unique approach.
Click past the break to find out more.
[Source: MIT News]
Basically, and we do mean basically, it goes like this: First, the carbon nanotube is coated with a reactive fuel. Then a heat source, either a laser or a high-voltage spark, sets the end of the nanotube ablaze – picture a tiny fuse. The heat from the burning fuel passes into the center of the nanotube where it travels thousands of times faster than it would through the chemical reaction of burning the fuel itself. Through this process, a thermal wave is created that travels along the length of nanotube so fast that it actually pushes electrons out in front of it along the length of the nanotube.
Remember in the movie Mission Impossible when Tom Cruise blows up the helicopter inside the train tunnel and the force of the explosion blasts him safely onto the back of a speeding train? Well, it's like that. Except that instead of a train tunnel, it's a carbon nanotube. And instead of an exploding helicopter piloted by Jean Reno, it's a laser, and instead of Tom Cruise, it's a bunch of electrons.
The point is, when electrons move, you've got electricity. How much electricity is generated by the burning nanotube? The team at MIT theorizes that a carbon nanotube battery could produce as much as 100 times the voltage of an equivalent weight of lithium ion. One-hundred times!
Does this mean the 900 pounds that the Tesla Roadster is carrying in the form of 6831 lithium ion batteries could one day be reduced to nine pounds worth of carbon nanotube batteries? Assuming MIT's number crunching is accurate, it seems feasible. One wonders if a thermo wave battery would suffer from the same cold-weather-electron-reluctance as the battery packs in some electric vehicles have displayed.
But all is not necessarily green with nanotubes. A study from the University of Cambridge shows that carbon nanotubes can enter human cells and accumulate in the cytoplasm, causing cell death. So whatever you do, don't go licking that carbon nanotube battery in your 2025 Nissan Leaf.
For a good read that's not overly techy, click here.