Apr 042010
 
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In the drive to devise more efficient and durable batteries, one promising option uses carbon nanotubes, which not only can store far more electricity by weight than lithium ion batteries but also retain their charge for a much longer time

The rechargeable lithium-ion batteries now so common in everything from iPods to hybrid cars can store twice the energy of similarly sized nickel-metal hydride batteries and up to six times as much as their lead-acid progenitors. But these advances are only a small evolutionary step from the world’s first battery designed by Alessandro Volta in 1800 using layers of metal and blotting paper soaked in salt water.

With battery technology advances long overdue, researchers are racing to develop more efficient ways to store power. One hopeful option is in the use of carbon nanotubes, which can store much more electricity by weight than lithium-ion batteries while keeping their charge and remain durable for far longer.

But what are carbon nanotubes, and how can they be used to store energy? Technicians skilled in working with matter at the molecular (nano) level can arrange pure carbon molecules in cylindrical structures that are both strong and flexible. They have significantly higher energy density and can store more electricity than any currently available technology. These tubes, each only billionths of a meter wide, essentially become highly efficient, electrically conductive pipes for storing and providing power.

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