New 'jelly' batteries could provide cheap, safe power for small electronics
Innovative polymer gel batteries promise a safer alternative to traditional lithium batteries.
Tue, Sep 13 2011 at 11:41 AM
DON'T TRY THIS AT HOME: This a block of polymer gel that has been pierced with screws to illustrate that the batteries will be safe even if punctured, unlike traditional lithium batteries. (Photo: University of Leeds)
Is your laptop too heavy? Blame your battery — but thankfully, bulky, heavy and potentially dangerous lithium batteries won't be around forever. Ian Ward, a physics research professor at the University of Leeds in the U.K. has come up with a new polymer gel — in other words, a jelly — that could be used to create a new kind of lithium battery that would be cheaper, lighter and more efficient.
"The polymer gel looks like a solid film, but it actually contains about 70 percent liquid electrolyte," Ward said in a prepared release. "It's made using the same principles as making a jelly: you add lots of hot water to 'gelatin' — in this case there is a polymer and electrolyte mix — and as it cools it sets to form a solid but flexible mass."
According to a news release, the new polymer gel can be formed into a thin, flexible film through a low-cost process. This film, which would lie between a battery's electrodes, would eliminate one need of traditional lithium batteries — to have multiple cells kept apart by a porous polymer film separator.
In addition to reducing weight and size, these new batteries could be made at about 10 percent of the cost of creating current batteries, Ward told IT Pro magazine.
The innovation could improve the safety of lithium-ion batteries, which have a tendency to overheat and possibly burst into flames, like the 54,000 batteries recalled by HP last year. "Conventional lithium batteries use electrolytes based on organic liquids; this is what you see burning in pictures of lithium batteries that catch fire," said another battery expert, professor Peter Bruce of the University of St Andrews, in an interview with BBC News. "Replacing liquid electrolytes by a polymer or gel electrolyte should improve safety and lead to an all-solid-state cell."
The technology has been licensed to an American company, Polystor Energy Corporation, which is conducting trials to commercialize the gel batteries for use in portable consumer electronics.
The idea of using gel to conduct or generate electricity is not new. This video shows how you can create an electric circuit at home using lemons, potatoes and Jell-O dessert:
And while we're at it, here are some other creative things you can do with Jell-O.
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