A nanotube structure, Credit: Geoff Hutchison  Flickr A nanotube structure, Credit: Geoff Hutchison  Flickr

Waiting for batteries to recharge sucks, but thanks to a recent breakthrough in nanotechnology, someday youy may not have to wait for more than a few minutes.

Developed by a team of researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory, the new technology could allow batteries to be charged to half of their full capacity in less than 30 seconds, as compared to the hours it takes for many devices to recharge. And through the use of titanium dioxide nanotubes, the battery's operational capacity gradually increases over time.

But how does this work? As it turns out, the group, led by nanoscientist Tijana Rajh and battery expert Christopher Johnson, discovered that these titanium dioxide nanotubes can "switch their phase as the battery is cycled". What this means is that the structures orient themselves to improve the way that energy flows through them. In the video below, you can see the structure "evolve" or become less random to improve efficiency.

In the past, the US Department of Energy and other groups have done related research with nanotubes and graphene due to their unique physical and electrochemical properties. In 2010, The U.S. Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory made a unique discovery involving graphene that could allow batteries to charge in a matter of minues.

However, unlike the graphene research where the graphene remains stationary, Argonne's nanotubes are actually capable of self-orienting.

Argonne notes that there is some level of plasticity to the system that allows the structures to move about and therefore improve their own performance. In other words, this new technology is a significant breakthrough because it's a self-improving structure.

According to an Argonne chemist, Jeff Chamberlain, this is a highly unusual behavior for a material. As Chamberlain says in the press release, "We're seeing some nanoscale phase transitions that are very interesting from a scientific standpoint, and it is the deeper understanding of these materials' behaviors that will unlock mysteries of materials that are used in electrical energy storage systems."

So far, Argonne has done a number of tests with the titanium dioxide nanotubes and lithium-ion battery technology that show that the nanotubes not only improve the speed at which the batteries charge, but they also improves the reliability and safety of the batteries.

The new technology might also be used for sodium-ion batteries in the time to come; one researcher, Sanja Tepavcevic, has already adopted the technology to make a sodium-ion nanobattery. Someday this technology may reach your laptops, smartphones, and other electronic device,s giving you more time to do what you want without forcing you to stand next to an outlet.

[Argonne National Laboratory via Engadget / Image: Geoff Hutchison on Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)]

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