Researchers from the Univeristy of California Irvine accidentally discovered a method that could significantly prolong the lifespan of rechargeable batteries. UCI doctoral candidate Mya Le Thai was playing around, she coated a set of gold nanowires in manganese dioxide and applied a plexiglass-like electrolyte gel.
Then she started cycling the nanowires to see what kind of performance they would deliver. Expectations were low but to the team's surprise, the unintentional discovery could be a major breakthrough. Nanowires usually degrade after around 8,000 charge cycles but Mya's discovery has the ability to support 200,000 charge cycles.
However, when they tested Thai's version, the battery was discovered to last even longer, and was found to be almost intact after many uses. The researchers suspect that the gel “plasticizes the metal oxide in the battery,” which provides even more longevity for the battery. A laptop battery is typically rated for only a few hundred charge/discharge cycles, but could last for at least 400 years if the UCI battery is used.
“Mya was playing around, and she coated this whole thing with a very thin gel layer and started to cycle it,” said Reginald Penner, chair of UCI’s chemistry department. “She discovered that just by using this gel, she could cycle it hundreds of thousands of times without losing any capacity.”
As is typical with these inventions, it's still in development phase so don't expect real-world applications anytime soon.