Soft contact lenses inspire new ways to make super batteries
THE way in which soft contact lenses are made now also offers electric car builders and cellphone makers hope of better batteries.
This after researchers at the University of Surrey and Augmented Optics, in collaboration with the University of Bristol, discovered new materials offering an alternative to battery power and proven to be between 10 and a thousand fold more powerful than the existing battery alternative — a super-capacitor.
Their research follows on that of researchers at the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia, who in 2014 announced a new carbon-based super-capacitor.
Like the Aussies, Augmented Optics hope their development will translate into very high energy density super-capacitors, making it possible to recharge your mobile phone, laptop or other mobile devices in just a few seconds.
The new technology could revolutionise electric cars, allowing the possibility for them to recharge as quickly as it takes for a regular non-electric car to refuel with petrol. It currently takes about six to eight hours to recharge.
Imagine, instead of an electric car being limited to a drive from Pietermaritzburg to Mooi River, the new technology could allow the electric car to travel from the KZN capital to Johannesburg without the need to recharge — and when it did recharge for this operation to take just a few minutes to perform.
The researchers said in a statement super-capacitor buses are already being used in China, but they have a very limited range, whereas this technology could allow them to travel a lot further between recharges. Instead of recharging every two to three stops, this technology could mean they only need to recharge every 20-30 stops and that would only take a few seconds.
Elon Musk, of Tesla and SpaceX, has previously stated his belief that super-capacitors are likely to be the technology for future electric air transportation.
The group said they believe the present scientific advance could make that vision a reality.
The technology was adapted from the principles used to make soft contact lenses, which Dr Donald Highgate (of Augmented Optics, and an alumnus of the University of Surrey) developed following his postgraduate studies at Surrey 40 years ago.
Super-capacitors, an alternative power source to batteries, store energy using electrodes and electrolytes and both charge and deliver energy quickly, unlike conventional batteries, which do so in a much slower, more sustained way.
However, because of their poor energy density per kg (roughly just one 20th of existing battery technology), they have, until now, been unable to compete with conventional battery energy storage in many applications.
Dr Brendan Howlin of the University of Surrey explained: “There is a global search for new energy storage technology and this new ultra capacity super-capacitor has the potential to open the door to unimaginably exciting developments.” The ground-breaking research programme was conducted by researchers at the University of Surrey’s Department of Chemistry where the project was initiated by Dr Donald Highgate of Augmented Optics Ltd.
The research team was co-led by principal investigators Dr Ian Hamerton and Dr Brendan Howlin. Dr Hamerton continues to collaborate on the project in his new post at the University of Bristol, where the electrochemical testing to trial the research findings was carried out by fellow University of Bristol academic David Fermin, professor of Electrochemistry in the School of Chemistry.
Dr Hamerton, reader in polymers and composite materials from the Department of Aerospace Engineering, University of Bristol, said: “While this research has potentially opened the route to very high density super-capacitors, these polymers have many other possible uses in which tough, flexible conducting materials are desirable, including bioelectronics, sensors, wearable electronics, and advanced optics.
“We believe this is a potentially game-changing development.”
Jim Heathcote, chief executive of both Augmented Optics Ltd and Supercapacitor Materials Ltd, said the test results from the new polymers suggest that extremely high energy density super-capacitors could be constructed in the very new future.
They are now seeking commercial partners in order to supply polymers and offer assistance to build these ultra-high energy density storage devices.