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With most of our devices being mobile these days, our lives heavily rely on the capacity of batteries of our electronics. Researchers at the Gdańsk University of Technology are working on improving the technology, but their work is not only related to the battery lifespans of our laptops and smartphones – it could also change the way we look at renewable energy sources.

There’s no doubt that renewable energy sources are the way to go, but the problem with the transition often comes down to their instability – the energy output values often cannot be predicted due to factors such as weather conditions.  Meanwhile, we have to supply energy when it`s needed, not just when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining. So if we want to rely on energy from renewable sources, we need energy storage devices that will store it fast, and effectively – says Dr. Monika Wilamowska-Zawłocka from Gdańsk University of Technology.

According to scientists from Gdańsk, who are developing the project thanks to the grant from the RETURNS competition of the Foundation for Polish Science, the answer may lie in hybrid devices which can combine the functions of batteries and supercapacitors. Wilamowska-Zabłocka’s work focuses on combining electrodes from both, in order to create devices with a higher power than the former, and higher energy density than the latter component.  

A good analogy of battery operation is a marathon: a battery works for a long time, it has a lot of energy, but releases it slowly, over a long period, explains Dr. Wilamowska-Zawłocka. [Meanwhile], a supercapacitor is like a 100-meter sprint: high speed in a very short time, which means high power, but a small amount of energy.

The biggest challenge? Maintaining a battery’s quality throughout its life cycle, despite its constant charging and recharging. Dr. Wilamowska-Zawłocka approximates that ideally, after 500 to 1000 charging cycles, a battery’s drop in energy would not exceed 20%.  If all goes well, the use of supercapacitors could solve the problem, as they collect charge only through the physical process on the material’s surface, without a typical chemical reaction which causes the usual wear-and tear.

Here’s to hoping that the research pans out!