It's quite amazing that just as Lithium Ion batteries have reached their maturity and are now taking off in the auto and personal electronics industries, suddenly a host of ground-breaking new methods for storing electricity have appeared on the scene.  I recently blogged about polymer gel batteries for Hyundai and ultracapacitors for Trinity AFS. Now two electrical engineers from Texas just received a patent (4 years in the making) for a device that could spell the end of conventional battery technology as we know it.

The "energy storage device" by EEStor, the company founded by the two inventors, will be 3x lighter, 20% smaller and 10x more powerful at half the cost of a conventional Lithium Ion battery.  According to the patent, that means that a much smaller battery can carry an automobile for 300 miles on a single 5 minute charge!

This solves many problems that have beset hybrid and electric cars since their inception -- warranty and frequent replacement of batteries (5 years at best), limited range, lengthy recharge times, and worst of all the occasional explosion which has resulted in costly manufacturing recalls.   Also, unlike regular batteries, the catalyst will never wear out. The devices can (theoretically) be recharged an infinite number of times.

Here's a comparison from the patent of the different battery technologies out there as compared to the EEStor device for a 52 kWh charge.  It seems too good to be true, and it might be.  But seeing the other miracles of 2008 wrought by nanotechnology, it would not surprise me if a brand new method for light-weight, high-power storage is at hand.

Essentially the device is made up of a series of stacked, screen-printed plastic sheets embedded with ceramic powder coated in aluminum oxide (which acts as the conductor) that together contain over 30,000 microscopic electrodes in series. The special ceramic and plastic substrate materials have to be cryogenically frozen to make them brittle enough to pulverize down to sub-micron size.  

But once the substrate is made, the circuits can be printed with relative ease, making for a cost-effective way to mass-produce portable energy devices.  Auto manufacturer ZENN has an exclusive license to go to market sometime in 2009 with the devices, but EEStor has had to delay their production causing some skeptics to wonder if it is a viable technology.  They say funding was the cause of the delay, and that the devices will be ready to ship next year.

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