Human Intestine Inspired Batteries Can Store up to 5 Times More Energy

Posted Nov 15, 2016
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Bio-mimicry (taking inspiration from nature) has always been a creative way to produce design solutions for most of our problems. Scientists have now figured out a way to create human intestine-inspired batteries which are able to produce 5 times more energy than our conventional lithium ion batteries we so often find in our laptops and other smart gadgets.

What this prototype does is utilize lithium-sulphur cell instead of the lithium ions, and the intestine-like features may finally be able to last long enough for commercial use.

How does it work

Headed in the University of Cambridge in the UK, this research has managed to overcome one of the major drawbacks to lithium-sulphur cells: the fact that they disintegrate very quickly, despite their superior energy density to lithium ions.

Basically, when a lithium-sulphur battery discharges, the sulphur from the cathode (the positive electrode of the battery) absorbs the lithium from the anode (the negative electrode of the battery), causing a reaction to create polysulphides. This causes a stress on the cathode, and the polysulphides dissolve in the electrolyte and joins the two electrodes. This eventually leads to the degradation of the battery itself.

Here is where bio-mimicry comes in. Our gut is lined with tiny protrusions called villi, which absorb the nutrients during digestion. By doing this, it increases the surface area of the intestines by 30 times. Scientists have now developed a nano-structure which resembles and act like the villi. These prototype villi will absorb the polysulphides in the electrolyte, slowing down the degradation process of the lithium-sulphur cell. It is also to be noted that these villi are made of zinc oxides.

“It’s a tiny thing, this layer, but it’s important. This gets us a long way through the bottleneck which is preventing the development of better batteries”, says Paul Coxon, a material scientist from the University of Cambridge.

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The future prospects for batteries

The experiment showed that it only lost about 0.05% of the energy after 200 cycles of charging and discharging, making it as stable as a lithium-ion. This experiment is just a proof of concept right now, and it will be years before we actually see these batteries in action in our smart gadgets. So far, it is evident that by surpassing the limitations of the lithium-sulphur cells, we are a step closer to designing more powerful batteries in the future.

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