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Energy Storage Breakthrough Uses Cables As Batteries

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Imagine being able to carry all the energy  you needed to power your devices in the fabric of your jacket?

Sounds like science fiction, but it may become a reality thanks to breakthrough technology developed at a University of Central Florida research lab. So far electrical cables are used only to transmit electricity. However, nanotechnology scientist and professor Jayan Thomas and his Ph.D. student Zenan Yu have developed a way to both transmit and store electricity in a single lightweight copper wire.

Their work is featured in Advanced Materials and science magazine Nature has published a discussion about this technology.

"It's an interesting idea," Thomas said. "When we did it and started talking about it, everyone we talked to said, "˜Hmm, never thought of that. It's unique.'"

Copper wire was the starting point but eventually, Thomas believes and as the technology improves, special fibres could be developed with nanostructures to conduct and store energy.

More immediate applications could be in the design and development of electrical vehicles, space-launching vehicles and portable electronic devices. The ability to store and conduct energy on the same wire could see heavy, space-consuming batteries become a thing of the past. It will also be possible to further miniaturize the electronic devices or take advantage of the space previously used for batteries to add functionality to a device. In the case of launch vehicles designed for space haulage, that could potentially lighten loads and reduce costs dramatically.

Thomas and his team began with a single copper wire. They then placed a sheath over the wire made up of nanowhiskers the team grew on the outer surface of the copper wire. These whiskers were then treated with a special alloy, which created an electrode. Two electrodes are needed for the energy storage. So they had to figure out a way to create the second electrode.

This was achieved by adding a thin plastic sheet around the whiskers and wrapping it using a metal sheath after generating nanowhiskers on (the second electrode and outer covering). The layers were then glued together with a special gel. Because of the insulation, the inner copper wire retains its ability to channel energy, but the layers around the wire independently store energy. In other words, Thomas and his team created a supercapacitor on the outside of the copper wire. Supercapcitors store energy, like that needed to start a vehicle or heavy-construction equipment.

Although more work needs to be done, Thomas said the technique should be transferable to other types of materials. That could lead to specially treated clothing fibres being able to hold enough power for large tasks. For example, if flexible solar cells and these fibres were used in tandem to make a jacket, it could be used independently to power electronic gadgets and other devices.

"It's very exciting," Thomas said. "We take it step by step. I love getting to the lab everyday, and seeing what we can come up with next. Sometimes things don't work out, but even those failures teach us a lot of things."

Yu is the co-author of the study. He works in Thomas' Nano Energy-Photonics Group where they conduct research focused primarily on nanostructured supercapacitors and Lithiuim-ion batteries, nanoarchitectured light-trapping solar cells, photorefractive polymers for 3D display applications, and nonlinear optical materials.

Journal Reference:

Zenan Yu, Jayan Thomas. Energy Storing Electrical Cables: Integrating Energy Storage and Electrical Conduction. Advanced Materials, 2014;


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