Researchers at the University of Central Florida have come up with a way to make copper electrical wires both electricity transporters and power storage devices. This breakthrough could be used as a replacement for standard batteries in everything from personal gadgets to electric cars and space vehicles to wired fabrics.
Nanotechnology professor Jayan Thomas and his Ph.D. student Zenan Yu are the team behind this discovery that could have major immediate and future applications.
In electric cars and space launch vehicles, heavy space-consuming batteries could be done away with and new designs for those vehicles could be made with these wires. Electric vehicles could be lighter and more efficient and use that battery space for something else useful, while lighter space vehicles would require less fuel and be less expensive to launch.
UCF explains how Thomas and Yu built this new power-storing wire that is essentially a copper wire with a supercapacitor around the outside:
Thomas and his team began with a single copper wire. Then he 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 powerful energy storage. So they had to figure out a way to create a second electrode.
They did it by adding a thin plastic sheet around the whiskers and wrapping it around 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 powerful energy.
Thomas and team believe the technology could be transferred to other materials like clothing fibers that could store large amounts of energy. If used in tandem with solar cells in a piece of clothing, the garment could independently charge cell phones and other personal electronics just by be worn outside.