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by Mike Zazaian September 17, 2006 - 2:00pm, 11 Comments

Two plastic battery prototypes

Researchers at Brown University have developed a plastic battery prototype which would combine the storage prowess of capacitors with the power of alkaline batteries.

While alkaline batteries are essential to our digital economy, they represent an inefficient and aging source of energy. That’s why engineers at Brown University have produced a battery that uses an electrical conducting plastic compound to produce 100 times the power of today’s standard double-As.

Developed by associate engineering professor Tayhas Palmore and former postdoctoral research associate Hyun-Kon Song, the batteries are based on a plastic compound called polypyrrole that bears similar conductive properties to metals. Polypyrrole got media attention in 2000 after winning the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for its three inventors. Palmore had this to say about the impetus for the battery:

Batteries have limits. They have to be recharged. They can be expensive. Most of all, they donít deliver a lot of power. Another option is capacitors. These components, found in electronic devices, can deliver that big blast of power. But they donít have much storage capacity. So what if you combined elements of both a battery and a capacitor?

Palmore and Song created the prototype by covering two gold-coated plastic strips with polypyrrole, and covering each with a different chemical substance that alters the polyprrole’s conductive properties. The strips were then divided by a papery membrane to prevent short circuit, resulting in a battery/capacitor hybrid which has has the best properties of each technology.

Tayhas Palmore, associate professor of engineering at Brown UniversityPolypyrrole batteries can be charged and discharged quickly like a capacitor, but can also deliver its charge over an extended period of time, like a battery. In tests the Polypyrrole batteries outdid both capacitors and batteries, demonstrating double the storage of an electric double-layer capacitor, and more than 100 times the power of a standard alkaline battery. Unlike standard batteries, however, the new plastic batteries are about as thick as a piece of paper, giving the new technology a great deal of flexibility for future implementations. Said Palmore:

You could wrap cell phones in it or electronic devices. Conceivably, you could even make fabric out of this composite.

[via Brown University]