Professor Jayan Thomas and Ph.D. student Zenan Yu have developed an innovative method of transmitting and storing electricity in a single lightweight copper wire.
According to UCF Today (University of Central Florida), the technology could ultimately allow individuals to power their MP3 players, smartphones and tablets using the fabric of their jackets. Indeed, by being able to store and conduct energy on the same wire, heavy, space-consuming batteries may very well become an outdated remnant of the past.
“It’s an interesting idea. When we did it and started talking about it, everyone we talked to said, ‘Hmm, never thought of that. It’s unique,'” said Thomas. ”We take it step by step. I love getting to the lab everyday, and seeing what we can come up with next. Sometimes things don’t work out, but even those failures teach us a lot of things.”
As Thomas notes, while copper wire may be the starting point, special fibers could eventually be developed with nanostructures to conduct and store energy.
The current model involves a single copper wire equipped with a sheath of nanowhiskers grown on the outer surface of the copper wire. The whiskers were subsequently treated with a special alloy, which created an electrode.
However, two electrodes were required to handle the energy storage, so the researchers created another by wrapping a thin plastic sheet around the whiskers using a metal sheath (after generating additional nanowhiskers). The layers were then glued together with a special gel. Because of the insulation, the inner copper wire retains its ability to channel energy, with the layers around the wire independently storing powerful energy.
Simply put, Thomas and his team managed to create an effective supercapacitor on the outside of the copper wire.
Although more research is required, the technique has the potential to be adapted for a wide range of applications. For example, flexible solar cells paired with the above-mentioned fibers could be used to design a jacket capable of powering various electronic devices.