New nanotechnology could help power laptops and gadgets for months
Just this month, Lenovo announced their X220 laptop and with it a possible 24 hour battery runtime. However, that device is powered by the combination of a 9 cell battery and an external clip-on battery which doesn’t exactly make it the slimmest of devices. And although the 24 hours may seem momentous at this point of time, researchers at the University of Illinois are working on a new technology that could power devices for even greater amounts of time.
The current memory used by most devices is a flash memory that stores bits as charges and requires high programming voltages while being relatively slow. As an alternative, companies have been researching phase-change materials (PCM) that store the memory bits as resistance in the material itself and are also switchable. Unfortunately, while these PCM memories are faster they require more energy consumption as a result.
In an attempt to solve this problem Professor Eric Pop and his team of researchers are exploring new technology that lowers the power used per bit to 100 times less than the existing PCM memory. The key behind this discovery is the substitution of carbon nanotubes instead of the standard metal wires that are routinely used. The nanotubes are 10,000 times smaller than a human hair, and as a result use less power than the normal PCM memory. In addition to that, the nanotubes are also more stable than the metal wires and are not susceptible to degradation or accidental erasure.
Feng Xiong, a student working on the project, explained the power saving features in the following way: “The energy consumption is essentially scaled with the volume of the memory bit. By using nanoscale contacts, we are able to achieve much smaller power consumption.”
While the new technology isn’t a battery in itself, it could bring down power consumption to miniscule values and could even possibly harvest its own thermal energy. Unfortunately, the work is still in its early stages and it will definitely be a while before we manage to see the technology in action. On the other hand, the applications are limitless and we can hardly wait to be able to use a laptop for weeks at a time without charging it.