A tiny energy source that packs a surprising amount of power, nanotech batteries are becoming smaller and more efficient every year. Nanotechnology includes the design of systems and devices on a nanoscale. To put into perspective how small the nanoscale is, one nanometer is a billionth of a meter; there are 25,400,000 nanometers in an inch; and a nanometer is estimated to be about 80,000 times thinner than a human hair. With their small size and increased energy storage, nanotech energy products can improve conventional energy sources like lithium-ion batteries and renewable energy such as solar, wind and geothermal energy. With green energy sources often relying on backups or producing intermittent energy, nanotech batteries could revolutionize the renewables industry. Renewables cannot yet provide a constant source of power and must store the energy for use at a later time. With the ability to store more energy than ever before, these batteries can provide a sustainable alternative to fossil fuel generation.

So what makes up a nanotech battery? These batteries consist of nanopores that produce an electric current. One battery developed by University of Maryland (UMD) nanotech researchers only takes 12 minutes to fully recharge. Gary Rubloff, director of UMD‘s NanoCenter, addresses the need for increased electrical energy storage: “Conventional devices to store and deliver electrical energy—batteries and capacitors—cannot achieve the needed combination of high energy density, high power and fast recharge that are essential for our energy future.” Since nanopores are identical and can be maneuvered into a tight grid pattern, manufacturers can fit more of them into a smaller area, thereby optimizing both space and increased energy storage within the battery.

For example, cars can be made more efficient using lightweight construction materials made possible with nanocomposites. These lighter materials contribute to less fuel consumption because of the reduced drag created as the car overcomes its own inertia in order for it to get up to speed. Compacting more nanopores into a smaller battery space will also result in a more sustainable production process, with fewer materials needed for—and wasted during—production.

While the pros of nanotech batteries seem endless, developing these batteries comes with its challenges. Constructing these batteries on a nanoscale is too expensive in the current market, and lower oil and natural gas prices across the country have overshadowed the demand for renewable sources like wind and sun. It will be a while before these mini-sized batteries hit mainstream production. But imagine what that will mean for smartphone batteries—not only could batteries be much lighter, recharge time would be greatly reduced.

So while the fad used to be to supersize, scientists and researchers across the technology, energy and environmental industries are looking to nanosize their batteries and devices in order to make more compact, energy-efficient technologies.

Did You Know?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also studies and researches nanotechnology. The EPA cites that some of the benefits of nanotechnology used in the environmental sector include the following: enhanced use of renewable energy sources and cost-effective development of those sources; more accurate sensing and monitoring devices; and improved environmental remediation of polluted sites.