Sun-free Photovoltaic Cells Could Mean the End for Lithium-ion Batteries
Those geniuses- or nerds depending on your viewpoint- at MIT have done it again, this time creating a sun-free photovoltaic battery that could mean the end of the lithium-ion era. Lithium-ion batteries, commonly used in cell phones and handheld devices, have been a thorn in the side of consumers for years, seemingly running down at the most inopportune of times.Advertisement:
While not completely a new concept, the good folks at MIT have figured out a way to convert heat into light that matches the wavelengths required to power photovoltaic cells. This means photovoltaic power can be generated in the dark, and it can be done in a generator roughly the size of a dime. Not only is this new technology small enough to be used to create batteries of all shapes and sizes, the generator can run for up to three times as long as a similar lithium-ion battery.
The generator works by using fuel to create heat that is directed toward a surface that has billions of tiny pits etched into. The material absorbs the heat, then radiates light at the finely tuned wavelengths required by the "sun-free" photovoltaic cells. The heat needed to power smaller batteries could be generated by burning small amounts of fuel, while larger scale batteries could be powered by decaying radioisotopes.
Will Sun-Free Photovoltaic Batteries Be a Good Replacement for Lithium-ion?
That's a good question, and one that doesn't have a simple answer. It still remains to be seen whether the material used to convert the heat into light can be manufactured cheaply and on a large scale. If not, the fact that the batteries last three times as long is somewhat of a moot point.
There's also the question as to whether consumers are willing to pay extra for fuel in order to have longer lasting batteries. The batteries created by MIT researchers run on butane, and the fuel pack needs to be replaced after use. While butane isn't exactly expensive and it won't take much to power a small battery, there will be some added cost to keep your devices running. For some, the fact that recharging will be instant and not require plugging in to the power grid will be more than enough to offset the added cost of fuel.
Is This a Green Technology?
In its current state, not really. While longer lasting cell batteries would be nice, the fact that the generators created at MIT burn fuel and release small amounts of waste products into the environment make it a technology that's tough to stand behind. Add in the fact that now instead of using batteries that can last years or longer, the new fuel packs will have to be disposed of after use and, if they catch on, will result in millions of spent fuel packs that need to be recycled or disposed of daily.
While there are likely a number of great uses for this technology, we hope sun-free photovoltaic cells don't see use in the handheld device industry, at least not in their current form.
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