News Column

Imagine clothes charging a cell

June 9, 2014

ORLANDO, Florida: A breakthrough in the way energy is stored could lead to smaller electronics, more boot space in a hybrid car and eventually clothing that can recharge a cellphone, according to researchers at the University of Central Florida.

Nanotechnology scientist Jayan Thomas says he believes he has discovered a way to store energy in a thin sheath around an ordinary lightweight copper electrical wire. As a result, the same wire that transmits electricity can also store extra energy.

"We can just convert those wires into batteries so there is no need of a separate battery," Thomas says. "It has applications everywhere."

Thomas's PhD student Zenan Yu is co-author.

Thomas says the process is relatively simple. First, he says, he heated the copper wire to create what he described as fuzzy "nanowhiskers", which are naturally insulated by copper oxide. The microscopic nanowhiskers vastly expand the wire's surface area.

A second plastic-covered layer of nanowhiskers creates a second electrode, similar to the positive and negative sides of a standard battery.

The technique could be used to lighten airplanes and spacecraft, to store excess energy from solar panels, and to further miniaturise small electronics, says Thomas.

The technique could also replace high energy-density supercapacitors, sometimes mistaken by hybrid car owners as a second battery, which provide the quick shot of energy cars and heavy machinery need to start.

He plans further research to apply the same technique to fibres woven into clothing along with a flexible solar cell, creating a wearable battery pack. - Reuters

Cape Argus

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Source: Cape Argus (South Africa)

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