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Nanotech nerds assemble überfast-charge battery

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Three researchers have come up with a technique they claim will allow laptop and smartphone batteries to be recharged in two minutes.

Huigang Zhang, Xindi Yu and Paul Braun of the University of Illinois created a new battery cathode - the negatively charged one - formed "from a self-assembled three-dimensional bicontinuous nanoarchitecture consisting of an electrolytically active material sandwiched between rapid ion and electron transport pathways".

Beyond the boffin-speak, we have a nickel framework electropolished to increase its porosity to 94 per cent. Into the empty space, the scientists poured Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) - the battery material, basically - creating a cathode that permits the fast movement ions and electrons, the exchange of which is what makes the battery store charge and then release it when connected in circuit.

When it came to charging the battery, the researchers found they could charge it up to 75 per cent of capacity in just 2.7 seconds. Reaching 90 per cent capacity took 20 seconds.

The only alternative that comes close is a capacitor, but these lack the energy density of a battery.

Want it fully charged? That will take rather longer, the boffins imply, but we think most us can live with 90 per cent capacity given the re-charge speed.

In any case, today's batteries lose capacity over time. So does the trio's battery, but they found it to maintain its capacity for at least 100 charge/discharge cycles.

Improving that will be one part of the technology's development, as will working out how to make the battery commercially viable.

On the basis of their work so far, the team reckon a regular-sized battery can be made which is able to be charged to 90 per cent of its nominal capacity in two minutes. When it might hit the market is another matter entirely.

The boffins also tried lithium-ion as the battery material - the substance used in almost all phone and laptop power packs these days - but found its recharge rate to be rather lower than the NiMH battery: 400 Coulomb to 1,000 Coulomb. ®

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