The Death Of The Battery Is Upon Us: Plastic Supercapacitor Could Recharge Gizmos

Battery life has been a huge issue around these parts. Particularly when it comes to notebooks, it always feels like manufacturers are giving us rough life estimates that are nowhere near accurate when compared to real-world figures. From R/C cars to notebooks to cars, there's no question that batteries are necessary in the world of technology, but they're also amongst the most annoying aspects due to their inability to stay charged for a remarkably long time and their tendency to degrade over time. Not to mention they're bad for the planet, expensive and unreliable.

Batteries may be the perfect example of a love/hate relationship, but that whole "hate" aspect could be vanishing in the future. Imperial College in London has a team of researchers that are making waves now thanks to their latest development. The project seems tightly connected with Volvo, but the implications are far more amazing than just helping a hybrid rely less on conventional heavy battery packs. The new invention isn't actually a "battery." Instead, it's a supercapacitor. Basically, this composite (sort of like a plastic) could be used to store and send out energy much in the same way as a battery, but since it's plastic, the actual casings of devices could be the battery itself.

Imagine a fender being used to help power a hybrid vehicle. Or maybe the casing of your next iPod could take the place of the bulky battery in the back. Or maybe your next ultraportable or netbook could use the enclosure itself as the battery rather than that bulky cell in the rear. It's definitely a game-changing concept, and amazingly, it's not really new. Supercapacitors have been around in science labs for years, but no one has really taken the initiative to mold and shape the idea into one that could be used to power our next generation of electronics.

The college is hoping to one day see mobile phones as thin as credit cards thanks to the ability to run without a conventional battery, and this same technology could be used to make hybrid cars lighter and more fuel efficient, not to mention cutting back the use of harmful battery materials. The project co-ordinator, Dr Emile Greenhalgh, from the Department of Aeronautics at Imperial College London, says:

“We are really excited about the potential of this new technology. We think the car of the future could be drawing power from its roof, its bonnet or even the door, thanks to our new composite material. Even the Sat Nav could be powered by its own casing. The future applications for this material don’t stop there – you might have a mobile phone that is as thin as a credit card because it no longer needs a bulky battery, or a laptop that can draw energy from its casing so it can run for a longer time without recharging. We’re at the first stage of this project and there is a long way to go, but we think our composite material shows real promise.”

At this point, it's still not clear when this technology would be able to used in typical consumer electronics. It's obviously far too conceptual and expensive to simply implement now, and lots of testing will probably have to be done to see if this could actually replace batteries. Assuming all that works out, we'd be delighted to see the death of the battery. We've been dealing with degrading battery cells for far too long, and it's about time that we could wake up on Christmas morning and not have it ruined by the phrase "Oh! I forgot the batteries!" Hopefully that fateful day is now sooner (much sooner) than it was before this innovation.