Mya Le Thai with her remarkable battery that can be charged for up to 400 years. Photo: UCI

Mya Le Thai with her remarkable battery that can be charged for up to 400 years. Photo: UCI

A female doctoral student at the University of California, Mya Le Thai, has stumbled upon a discovery that could solve our modern battery woes for good. After playing around in the lab, Thai has uncovered a technique that can extend the life of lithium-ion batteries from 3 years to up to 400 years, a great breakthrough for our environment.

A team of researchers at UCI had been experimenting with nanowires for potential use in batteries, but found that over time the thin, fragile wires would break down and crack after too many charging cycles. A charge cycle is when a battery goes from completely full to completely empty and back to full again. But it was by chance one day that Thai coated a set of gold nanowires in manganese dioxide and a Plexiglas-like electrolyte gel, giving them more flexibility and leading to the discovery.

“She started to cycle these gel capacitors, and that’s when we got the surprise,” said Reginald Penner, chair of the university’s chemistry department. “She said, ‘this thing has been cycling 10,000 cycles and it’s still going.’ She came back a few days later and said ‘it’s been cycling for 30,000 cycles.’ That kept going on for a month.”

What makes Thai’s achievement so astonishing is the fact that our average laptop batteries only last 300 to 500 charge cycles. The UCI team’s nanobattery survived 200,000 charge cycles in just three months, a feat that would extend the life of an average laptop battery by around 400 years, and one that could greatly increase the lifespan of products, reduce waste and landfill, and even boost the mileage range of electric vehicles.  

"The coated electrode holds its shape much better, making it a more reliable option," Thai said. "This research proves that a nanowire-based battery electrode can have a long lifetime and that we can make these kinds of batteries a reality."

While gold nanowires batteries may be expensive to produce, the team at UCI believe they could achieve similar results coating the nanowires with nickel.

What an exciting discovery.