Batteries power most of our modern devices including smartphones and computers and usually contain lithium, a toxic chemical that is difficult to dispose of. Engineers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a new type of battery that uses electricity to harness heat, releasing the need for toxic materials and could significantly reduce the amount of e-waste.
Lithium batteries currently cause a problem when not disposed of correctly. Many get sent to landfill sites where the toxic components can seep into the soil causing environmental hazards. According to CS Monitor, unused cell phones get sent to developing countries, however, many people there are uneducated in how to handle toxic materials.
The environmentally-friendly technology works by a pulse of heat that pushes electrons through a cluster of carbon nanotubes carrying electrons from one end to the other. Michael Strano, the Carbon P. Dubbs Professor in Chemical Engineering at MIT, and his team previously discovered the technology back in 2010 but only produced a minuscule amount of current. Now they have managed to find a way to increase the amount a thousandfold and have been able to produce devices that can match today’s best batteries, as reported in MIT News.
Despite this incredible advancement, it is thought to be a while before the technology can be used commercially and still needs more development time. Kourosh Kalantar-Zadeh, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at RMIT University in Australia, who was not part of the research, commented on the findings saying that it is “still far from the upper limit that the thermopower wave devices can potentially reach.”
[This is] an important demonstration of increasing the energy and lifetime of thermopower wave-based systems. I believe that we are still far from the upper limit that the thermopower wave devices can potentially reach. However, this step makes the technology more attractive for real applications.
It is thought that in the future, scientists will be able to use the technology for space travel – namely deep-space probes that travel dormant through space for years. This is because devices using this technology don’t seem to lose much power over time.
The MIT team have published their findings in the journal Energy & Environmental Science.