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Plastic Batteries Coming Soon? 200

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the polymer-power dept.
Roland Piquepaille writes "Engineers at Brown University have built a prototype of a hybrid plastic battery that uses a conductive polymer. The system, which marries the power of a capacitor with the storage capacity of a battery, can store and deliver power efficiently. For example, during performance testing, 'it delivered more than 100 times the power of a standard alkaline battery.' Still, it's unlikely that such a device can appear on the market before several years."
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Plastic Batteries Coming Soon?

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  • Finally!!!! (Score:3, Funny)

    by ZiakII (829432) on Saturday September 16, 2006 @12:26PM (#16120494)
    Something to use in my sega nomad!!!
  • Ouch (Score:5, Funny)

    by CrazyJim1 (809850) on Saturday September 16, 2006 @12:28PM (#16120503) Journal
    'it delivered more than 100 times the power of a standard alkaline battery.', slurred the engineer with the scortched tounge.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by TeknoHog (164938)

      Actually, the resistance of the tongue would probably limit the current to a safe level, even if the battery were capable of much bigger current than today's batteries.

      -- TeknoHog, ruining perfectly good jokes with technical facts since 1978.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by bergeron76 (176351)
      This won't come to fruition because the Saudi's would will probably buy up this technology (as they have most other "silver bullets" to Oil Dependency). They give a few million to the alternative energy designer for his idea, and basically just pay him to never bring his idea to market. I personally know people whom have sold their prototypes / product rights to foreign "nationals" (aka, powerbrokers in foreign countries, just not government or "officials" for that country).

      GOP: Grand Oil Party / God Onl
  • Five to ten years... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MythoBeast (54294) on Saturday September 16, 2006 @12:31PM (#16120521) Homepage Journal
    Why is it that we keep hearing about this kind of advancement "to be available in five to ten years", and yet the storage capacity of batteries has been stagnated for at least that long?
    • by jellomizer (103300) * on Saturday September 16, 2006 @12:40PM (#16120566)
      Batteries tend to improve linearly while electronics tend to improve exponentially. So this really makes batteries seem like they are stagnant. If batteris went at the same speed as electronics. A nuclear power-plant will be in a AAA Battery.
    • by mcrbids (148650)
      Your Post:


      Why is it that we keep hearing about this kind of advancement "to be available in five to ten years", and yet the storage capacity of batteries has been stagnated for at least that long?


      Your Sig:


      Wake up - the future is arriving faster than you think.


      Isn't that a bit, eh, contradictory?

      BTW: batteries are DEFINITELY improving. Remember rechargables a la 1980, these dumb nicad thingies that never really worked all that well? Compare that to today's NiMH batteries that outperform many alkalines, and
  • by davidwr (791652) on Saturday September 16, 2006 @12:33PM (#16120531) Homepage Journal
    Kirk: More power Scotty!
    Scotty: The engines, they canna take it no more, they'll blow for sure
    ENERGIZER BUNNY INTERRUPTS: *clang* *clang* *clang*
    Announcer: Compared to regular dilithium crystals engines powered by new Energizer Polymer crystals last twice as long.
    ENERGIZER BUNNY: *clang* *clang* *clang*
    [fade to black, Enterprise exploding in the background]
  • by linkedlinked (1001508) on Saturday September 16, 2006 @12:34PM (#16120535)
    How long, on average, does it take for a new technology (especially battery related) to reach the market, after an announcement like this?

    I ask, because I've been reading slashdot for over 4 years, and it seems like there's a healthy number of "revolutionary power supply" breakthroughs, or "batteries that will change your life (for cheap!)," and today, my new laptop still dies after an hour and a half.

    I don't mean to be a cynic, but it really feels like these ideas never make it out of the lab.
    • by MtViewGuy (197597) on Saturday September 16, 2006 @12:43PM (#16120584)
      I can understand your skepticism, but this breakthrough--along with MIT's research into using carbon nanotubes to build superior supercapacitor storage devices--could drastically change the world as we know it for two reasons:

      1. It opens the door for a truly practical electric car, one that uses a far smaller battery pack (which means more passenger/cargo space and less battery "dead weight" to lug around) with very long range and recharge times about the same as one refilling the fuel tank in a passenger car.

      2. It makes it possible for large-scale storage of electric power, meaning power generated by wind turbines and/or solar cell farms can be stored for future use when the wind speed is low and during the night.
      • by cp.tar (871488)

        It opens the door for a truly practical electric car, one that uses a far smaller battery pack (which means more passenger/cargo space and less battery "dead weight" to lug around) with very long range and recharge times about the same as one refilling the fuel tank in a passenger car.

        Hey, if the batteries are small/light enough, even if the recharge times are measured in hours, surely recharge stations could simply give you a fresh one in exchange for your empty one... If necessary, they could make sure t

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by GnarlyNome (660878)
        with an energy denisity that high you don't have a battery ...you have a bomb
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Jeff DeMaagd (2015)
          with an energy denisity that high you don't have a battery ...you have a bomb

          So then it would be just like a gas tank, right?
          • by Orange Crush (934731) on Saturday September 16, 2006 @01:24PM (#16120736)
            So then it would be just like a gas tank, right?

            Gas tanks don't explode in the real world like they do on movies & tv. Gasoline needs to be in a fine mist to become explosive--a puddle of gasoline will only burn as quickly as it can breathe in oxygen. A capacitor on the other hand can release all of its stored energy instantly. A big enough cap to power a car would go off like a bomb.

            Obviously they'll have safety circuitry to prevent that from happening in the event of a short . . . but I still haven't heard how they intend to make them safe in a car crash, when the capacitor itself might get ruptured or crushed.

            • "but I still haven't heard how they intend to make them safe in a car crash, when the capacitor itself might get ruptured or crushed."

              We still have the technique we use today to make safe batteries... Encapsulate several little batteries, and use them toghether to make a huge one.

              The strenght of the container you put your battery on decreases proportionaly to its size, but the ebergy it contains decreases with the third power of the size. So, the real question is: How long until we are able to manufactur

            • Yes, because slowly leaking flamable liquids all over the place sounds much better. If the battery/cap goes off like a bomb, then that event can only happen once, and it's a short duration with more predicatable results. I'm sure they can design it in such away that it doesn't sent shrapnel flying in random directions.
        • by bagsc (254194)
          As opposed to exploding Li-Ion? Or gasoline tanks? I think we're gonna need to dance with the devil to get to the next level in batteries.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Eideewt (603267)
          No one would ever drive a car powered by something that could explode.
      • and during the night.

        Actually, during the night is when power consumption is the lowest also. You've turned your lights on, but you've shutdown your factories. That's why hydro systems pump water back uphill suring those hours to store it for peak daytime usage.

    • It may be that the technology was thought to be too expensive to make, some liability issue or other unforseen complication. The demands on a prototype are far different than they would be in a commercially available unit. The commercially available device will have to be able to accept many kinds of abuse without hurting anything, and must work well over much wider temperature and air pressure ranges than simple STP that the lab will have.
    • They do make it out of the lab, and you do see them. We just don't have the breathless "this is cool" announcements when they start to be commercially available, we get it when they are invented.

      Ni-Cd was a "wow, this is cool and will be on the market in 2 to 3 years" technology once. So was Li-Ion. Heck, so was Alkine (a long time ago).

      Your laptop still dies after 1.5 hours because some engineer decided that 1.5 hours was all you needed. Some of today's laptops draw 2 or 3 times as much current as older
      • by kimvette (919543)
        Ni-Cd was a "wow, this is cool and will be on the market in 2 to 3 years" technology once.


        You were there for that, in the 1800s? Just how old ARE you? ;)
    • ...my new laptop still dies after an hour and a half.

      Also, there is the replacement cost of a laptop battery, they fail after a few years of use. By that time, the new laptops have increased in power and performance, so I tend to want to weigh the cost of a new battery vs just getting a new laptop. New battery, delivered, perhaps less than 15-20% of the cost of a new laptop, but consider this:

      1. Toshiba T1910CS [twinbee.com], 4 MB of RAM, DOS/Windows 3.1, lots of handy Toshiba utilities, such as Windows 3.1 or DOS flopp
  • by arete (170676) <`areteslashdot2' `at' `xig.net'> on Saturday September 16, 2006 @12:34PM (#16120540) Homepage
    The summary is pretty bad. If I'm reading the article right:

    This is neat, but not a revolution, it's exactly the hybrid of a battery and a capacitor - it has some advantages of both.

    This device has similar or less storage capacity than a battery, but can deliver its power much faster.
    It has similar or less power delivery abilities than a capacitor, but twice the storage capacity.

    In MANY devices, the real problem is that the batteries drain. This doesn't help that in the least bit. This will not make your electric car go farther. This only helps the situation with ultra-high-drain requirements, where a normal battery just wouldn't work.
    • by ottffssent (18387)

      In MANY devices, the real problem is that the batteries drain. This doesn't help that in the least bit. This will not make your electric car go farther. This only helps the situation with ultra-high-drain requirements, where a normal battery just wouldn't work.

      And in many devices (camera flashes, high-power or small-size flashlights, etc.) normal batteries just don't work well because the power requirements beat the hell out of them and they only deliver a small fraction of their nominal capacity (usually r

    • by cgenman (325138)
      There are lots of situations where you would want high power in short bursts.

      Coming to mind:

      Camera Flashes
      Quick Robotic Movements
      Stun Guns
      Short Burst Radio Transmissions
      Most applications that involve hydrolics
      Cutting Lasers
      Ignition Sparks (stoves, cigarettes, cars, etc)

      And in high-drain circumstances, the batteries would behave better overall. Standard alkalines waste a lot of capacity when trying to satisfy high-drain situations.

      The form factor seems more interesting, however. As thin as a transparency s
  • by MtViewGuy (197597) on Saturday September 16, 2006 @12:37PM (#16120551)
    I think this new battery probably has some relationship to the carbon nanotube supercapacitor electrical storage device that MIT is currently working on.

    This is a potentially huge breakthrough, since unlike regular batteries this new power storage unit can be recharged hundreds of thousands of times and the recharge time is measured in minutes, not hours. That makes it possible for truly practical all-electric car and also as a truly practical means to store power generated by wind turbines and solar cell arrays for use later.
    • by mnmn (145599)

      Electric cars have been 'practical' for a long time given the technology of 20 years ago. Don't believe GM.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Firethorn (177587)
        Practical, as in workable, technically feasable, yes.

        Practical as in 'Economical', no.

        Practical as in having no disadvantages over gasoline? Not yet.
        Practical as in having enough advantages over their disadvantages, as compared to gasoline power? Not Yet.

        Look at the spread of CDs, then DVDs, No longer did you need to worry about rewinding, can instantly chapter forward, no worry about magnets, overall smaller form factor, etc...

        Then look at the popularity of LCD monitors. While say the color accuracy is w
    • by owlnation (858981)
      um, yes.. but aren't you just replacing the non-renewable liquid hydrocarbon fuel with a new non-renewable solid hydrocarbon fuel. Sure, marginally less air pollution (though the other pollutive aspects of car/truck/bus travel remain: noise, heat, visual, congestion etc.), but isn't this still just yet another failing to see the wood for the trees alternative automotive solution?

      ...or did I miss something?
      • um, yes.. but aren't you just replacing the non-renewable liquid hydrocarbon fuel with a new non-renewable solid hydrocarbon fuel.

        It's much better than that. Supercapacitors could not only power our cars, but they can solve a lot of the problems with renewable energy sources for generating the electricity in the first place. i.e. what good is a solar power plant at night. When automobiles start running off of grid power exclusively, the incentives for renewable power sources go up dramatically--especi

      • by ardor (673957)
        Um, no.
        Hydrocarbons as a component are not the problems. H. as energy source are. Oil is basically stored solar energy. If we have replacements for the primary energy source (like solar energy, wind, geothermal, maybe even fusion someday) hydrocarbons can be created synthetically if needed (but even when Oil is useless as an energy source, it will be still around).

        In fact, this is the future almost all car manufacturers envision: the electric car. Why?

        First, because electrical engines have a huge torque com
        • by MtViewGuy (197597)
          Improvements in supercapacitor technology makes an all-electric car practical for these reasons:

          1) You store quite a lot of electrical energy in a supercapacitor pack. This means potentially drastic reductions in the size of the battery pack on an all-electric car, reducing the "deadweight" of the car and providing cargo/passenger space comparable to a regular car now. You could sacrifice a little cargo/pax space for a larger supercapacitor battery pack and get driving ranges as much as 600 km (372 miles),
      • by ceoyoyo (59147)
        Are you referring to carbon nanotubes as non-renewable fuel? They're not fuel since the battery is rechargeable. They're also not non-renewable, since we make them. Carbon is quite common. Some people say too common, in our atmosphere.

        Presumably we'd charge the things with electricity from something renewable. Even if we didn't, concentrating production of energy at large facilities would likely make it more efficient and easier to scrub the exhaust.
  • "You start thinking about this polymer and you start thinking that you can create batteries everywhere out of it," Palmore said. "You could wrap cell phones in it or electronic devices. Conceivably, you could even make fabric out of this composite."

    Yes! Because we all need a good jolt once in a while during the day, and the coffee doesn't always do the trick.

    On a more serious note, this polypyrrole material is just too much like the PyrE [wikipedia.org] stuff and we all know how that ended up.
  • Quotith TFA (Score:2, Interesting)

    by CrazyDuke (529195)
    "It had twice the storage capacity of an electric double-layer capacitor. And it delivered more than 100 times the power of a standard alkaline battery."

    Uh, maybe I'm behind on my knowledge of current capacitor technology, but I'm under the impression that twice as much storage as a capacitor is not saying a whole lot. So, basically the thing can juice a large amount of amps, for what? ...a split second for any resonable portable battery size?

    If you want to use battery-like capacitors, I'd recomment the mu
  • by creimer (824291) on Saturday September 16, 2006 @12:41PM (#16120576) Homepage
    A plastic battery and plastic explosive that looks like a plastic battery in an airport x-ray machine?
    • by Mr. Hankey (95668)
      If the news surrounding Lithium technology batteries is any indication, Lithium-Polymer batteries might very well be considered explosives.
    • by owlstead (636356)
      Don't know about the difference, but a similarity is that they can blow up, so it makes little difference.
  • Good news - scientists develeop a cool new battery.

    Bad news - it uses a gold strip as one of its components.

    Time to market - take a wild guess...
    • by Firethorn (177587)
      Plenty of gold plated connectors out there. Gold($583), while a valuable metal, is not so expensive when you start talking about platinum($1164), quantities of copper($3.31), nickel($13.22), etc...

      A strip of gold, while it might be expensive, has to be looked at in the context of expense. If it's worth it, it'll be used in a moment.
  • by dpbsmith (263124) on Saturday September 16, 2006 @12:44PM (#16120588) Homepage
    ...for most of the things I care about. And this device only had double thecapacity of an an alkaline battery. Capacity is mAh. Power is watts.

    An alkaline battery might have a capacity of (say) 2000 mAh, meaning that it could power a three-watt bulb for about an hour. This device, if it lives up to the claims, could do so for about two hours.

    An alkaline battery couldn't power a 100-watt bulb at all, because it can't deliver more than a few amps. This device apparently _could_ power a 100-watt bulb... but only for about four minutes.

    The ability to deliver power, that is to deliver energy in a short, intense burst, might be very useful for some applications. But it wouldn't let you recharge your laptop once a week or anything like that.

    (There's another question I have. A battery hold an almost steady voltage for a long time, then declines fairly rapidly. Almost a square wave. This is one reason why it's hard to measure discharge state. Presumably these ultracapacitors have a smooth, exponential voltage decline, like radioactive decay. That probably means that you need tricky circuitry to exploit them... and there is probably always a significant amount of power in the device that you can't use, because the voltage has dropped too low).
    • by flooey (695860)
      And this device only had double the capacity of an an alkaline battery.

      It wasn't even that. The device had double the capacity of a traditional capacitor, which traditionally suck for capacity (hence why we use batteries). It's really what it claims, a hybrid. It's between a battery and a capacitor in terms of both storage capacity and power delivery.
    • The hell it's not important. Power in batteries often works both ways; fast discharge compared to another battery often implies a faster charge rate. And this looks to also be the case here.

      Also, it doesn't have double the capacity of an an alkaline battery, but double the capacity of an electric double-layer capacitor. So, it may infact even have less then the capacity of an alkaline battery. But there isn't much info on the density of the material, so I'm not sure why you think it would be a good idea to
  • We won't be seeing our battery problems solved ever.

    High energy density is dangerous. As it is, we're seeing laptop computers vent with flame.

    This thing? Gee, it's basically a bomb. Even better? What, you want to rip apart the whole airport?
    • by ceoyoyo (59147)
      You mean like in a gas tank?

      Actually, if you figure out the energy density of the notebook itself, it's pretty high. E=mc2 you know. It's just that the energy is in a really stable form. It's not density, but stability that matters.
      • by r00t (33219)
        I mean like a gas tank which also contains the oxidizer in very close proximity to the fuel. In other words, like a solid rocket engine or a bomb.

        High-density capaciters are damn bad. Damage one little film, and you get an arc. This then damages yet more, and so on, until all of the stored charge has been used to rapidly heat the capaciter.
    • by lachlan76 (770870)
      Li-Ion batteries don't explode because of the stored energy, they explode because lithium is a very volatile metal. Didn't you ever see a piece of lithium thrown in water in high school?
  • by Animats (122034) on Saturday September 16, 2006 @12:48PM (#16120610) Homepage

    Ah, Roland the Plogger again.

    First, this isn't about a battery with a 100x higher energy density. That would be a major breakthrough. It's about one with a high peak power, for surge applications. That's a specialty item.

    It's also been done. Flat batteries with high peak-power outputs were invented over 25 years ago at Polaroid, for the PolaPulse [photobattery.com] battery. One of those was in every Polaroid film pack for years. It could put out 15 amps for a brief period, providing plenty of power to run the camera mechanism. (Since, in that camera, the battery had to power the mechanism that squeezed the film between the development rollers, substantial power was required for about one second.) The battery chemistry wasn't rechargeable, although there's no reason a rechargeable chemistry couldn't have been put in that packaging.

    PolaPulse batteries are still available, and turn up now and then when a flat battery with a high peak current is needed. One amusing use of PolaPulse batteries is StartMeUp [manufacturingcenter.com], which is a pocket-sized unit with six PolaPulse batteries used to restart a car.

    Several other manufacturers [ecnmag.com] claim to make flat batteries, some of which are rechargeable. However, none of the manufacturers mentioned in that article actually seem to be shipping product.

    • First, this isn't about a battery with a 100x higher energy density. That would be a major breakthrough. It's about one with a high peak power, for surge applications. That's a specialty item

      This new battery/capacitor hybrid can be used for long term usage. It is not only for short surges. I quote TFA:

      The result is a hybrid. Like a capacitor, the battery can be rapidly charged then discharged to deliver power. Like a battery, it can store and deliver that charge over long periods of time. During perfor

      • by Animats (122034)

        The PolaPulse can do that, too. You can draw 15 amps for a few seconds, or a few microamps for years to keep a clock alive.

      • by honkycat (249849)
        Maybe it can store the charge for a while, but unless you have more energy storage than an alkaline, you're going to run out of energy pretty quickly at 100x the power delivered. I'm not sure offhand what the energy capacity of a standard double-layer capacitor is, but it's substantially lower than an alkaline battery.

        Regardless of how long you're storing the energy, you'd only use this technology (as described) in surge applications. If you don't need 100x the power, then use an alkaline because it'll la
    • by ozbird (127571)
      I think you mean thin batteries: a flat battery is what you get by discharging its power.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Conducting polymer (such as polypyrrole) supercapacitors have been around for years. For example, see some of Belanger's work here:
    http://www.er.uqam.ca/nobel/dep_chim/prof/belanger .htm [er.uqam.ca]

    Other examples include:
    http://scitation.aip.org/getabs/servlet/GetabsServ let?prog=normal&id=JESOAN0001510000070A1052000001& idtype=cvips&gifs=yes [aip.org]

    Nothing new to see here, folks! Sorry!

    (Yes, I am an electrochemist)

  • by artifex2004 (766107) on Saturday September 16, 2006 @01:01PM (#16120658) Journal
    1) Can plastic batteries be recycled, and if they aren't, how long is it projected to take for them to degrade in a landfill?
    2) How long until all plastics are banned from commercial flights, because they might be illicit power sources for bombs or weapons?

    (I'm not telling which is the serious question)
  • New Standards (Score:3, Informative)

    by Doc Ruby (173196) on Saturday September 16, 2006 @01:07PM (#16120676) Homepage Journal
    Interestingly, alkaline solutions [google.com] offer greater power density than hydrogen. So maybe the "new standard" alkaline batteries will be fuelcells.

    What I really want to see is "plastic" catalyst membranes in these fuelcells. That will make the cells cheap and easily replaceable, lowering the TCO consistent with the cheap fuel. It might need to be "new standard" plastic, carbon fullerenes with nanoscale features catalyzing the process. But if we can avoid the rare earth and precious metal elements fuelcells often require, we can more easily switch our power systems over to the cleaner, smaller, cheaper systems. Someday, a phone that can talk longer than I can.
  • Badn journalism.... (Score:3, Informative)

    by gweihir (88907) on Saturday September 16, 2006 @01:07PM (#16120681)
    • "Comming soon" is not equal to "comming in several years". Stop lying in headlines!
    • 100 times the power will make a lot of people believe you are talking about battery life. This is wrong. The short-term peak-performance is 100 time that of the alkaline cell. This says absolutely nothing about the power capacity and is a worthless feature for, e.g., mobile electonics. Typical disinformation in order to hype this thing. Also the 500A or so peak current this thing seems to have is needed nowhere, i.e. a basically worthless feature.
  • Charge time (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Ixlr8 (63315)
    If a battery can be recharged quickly (as in much much quicker than your Li-ion laptop battery) it could find good applications in mobile devices you use often. Not the torch you have laying around for a power outage, but say a mobile phone or mp3 player. Short charge times means high charge currents, so a laptop probably doesn't fit the category.
  • Research Fraud (Score:2, Insightful)

    by fluffy99 (870997)
    What you see here is a prime example of deceptive research results. 100x power in this case, just means 100x the peak amperage available - not 100x the energy density. The misleading quote was probably intentional, so as to lure potential investors or grant writers into thinking this project is on the verge of a major breakthrough. The reality is that they are simply rehashing existing work looking for a different angle. They have not created anything better or even really different than what is alread
  • 'it delivered more than 100 times the power of a standard alkaline battery.'

    Hate to short this puppy out by accident.

  • Sounds great for digital cameras, whose power requirements (long duration with high peak flows) don't work well with some battery types.
  • Capacitors are great.... until they explode. The higher the power the capacitor naturally, the bigger the bang. you're not just talking about the build up of gas here.

    With these polymer batteries you've got the high voltage and high current. if these get shorted not only will there be a violent bang but surely the huge current would result in melting/igniting the immediate surroundings or creating an EMP.

  • Still, it's unlikely that such a device can appear on the market before several years."

    And many, many years before they are common.

    As someone who has moved almost all standalone devices to rechargeables, I'm sensitive to what little incentive the battery manufacturers have to scale down their business. Outside of specialty battery stores, a computer store and Target the only place I've seen "standard size" rechargeables sold is SuperAmerica and I give them credit for that.

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