mPhase Technologies' Nanotechnology Battery Development Featured in NJBIZ
Compare today's cell phones with the bulky models of just a few years ago and it's clear that electronic gadgetry keeps getting smaller and smaller. But what most people don't know is that the technology behind the batteries that power these ever-shrinking gadgets hasn't changed much in 100 years.
“The alkaline battery was invented in the early 1900s and battery technology has moved very slowly.”
Research now underway in both private- and public-sector laboratories is designed to make the next generation of portable power cells far smaller, more powerful and longer lasting than anything in use today. Organizations big and small are collaborating to make this happen and are focusing on nanotechnology--the study of how materials behave at the nanometer or atomic scale--as their principal strategy.
A Little Falls firm called mPhase Technologies is working with Rutgers University and Lucent's Bell Laboratories to devise batteries that can hold their charge much longer than today's alkaline cells. The research may lead to tiny batteries that are incorporated directly into a gadget's circuit board rather than connected by wire to it. "This is something small, less than postage-stamp size that could be integrated into the same piece of silicon that is housing the electronics," says Ron Durando, CEO of mPhase.
Last year mPhase entered into a co-development and commercialization agreement with Bell Labs to develop a nanobattery based on Bell Labs' work on managing the behavior of tiny droplets of liquid. This technology is used to control the chemical reactions within batteries. Rutgers is contributing research facilities and expert advice from its faculty.
The key to this path-breaking research has been the development at Bell Labs of a material called nanograss. "Imagine a bed of nails shrunken down a million times," says Dave Bishop, vice president of nanotechnology research at Bell Labs and president of the New Jersey Nanotechnology Consortium, which supports nanotech research in the state. The nanograss material enables Bell Labs to control the movement of tiny droplets, making it possible to control the interaction of electrolytes within a battery.
Bishop says it is long past time for batteries to catch up with the advances made in other areas of technology. "An awful lot of science engineering gets done around poor battery performance," he says. Since batteries have evolved about as much as a T-Rex, new technologies must be designed around the same power shortcomings that have existed for generations. "Ultimately the real limitation is battery power," says Bishop.
While companies like Duracell and Eveready increase the life span of their alkaline batteries every few years, the underlying technology has changed little over the generations. "There really has not been a breakthrough in batteries," says Durando. "The alkaline battery was invented in the early 1900s and battery technology has moved very slowly."
One of the problems the researchers seek to overcome is the way standard batteries lose power over time even when they are not in use. Slowing down this process could greatly extend the useful life of the battery. "Typically after a battery has been sitting around for a year or two, it is pretty much shot," Bishop says.
"What we have been able to do is separate the electrolyte from the positive and negative electrodes and combine the reactions on demand when you need them," says Durando. That means the batteries would not start the chemical reactions that create electricity--and run the battery down--until the user is actually drawing on the power. "This has led to a very long shelf life for the battery," Durando says. He expects this research to lead to batteries that can pack a jolt after sitting for 20 years.
It won't happen overnight, of course. Making this electric dream come true will require finding practical applications that can be used to generate demand. Homeland security seems like a good place to start and mPhase is looking for security-related uses to drive its research. "We are targeting the sensors market," says Durando, "particularly when you need to put a sensor on a bridge or in a tunnel and you can't get power to it." Further applications could come in the field of defense electronics.
In the home, a nanobattery in a smoke alarm or carbon monoxide detector would last longer than the standard nine-volt power source that users are advised to replace annually. "Our first applications are in backup power but ultimately we believe the battery can move into commercial applications providing primary power," says Durando. "We also believe it may be able to be a rechargeable battery."
Durando says his company and Bell Labs have been encouraged by their prototype's performance. "Within the first year we proved that indeed you could generate 1.6 volts with a nanobattery," he says. Now mPhase and its partners hope they can wring out big improvements by focusing on the science of the very tiny.
About mPhase Technologies, Inc.
mPhase Technologies Inc. (OTC: XDSL) develops and commercializes next-generation telecommunications and nanotechnology solutions, delivering novel systems to the marketplace that advance functionality and reduce costs. The company, awarded the 2005 Frost & Sullivan Excellence in Technology Award, is bringing nanotechnology out of the laboratory and into the market with a planned innovative long life power cell. Additionally, the company is working on prototype ultra-sensitive magnetometers that promise up to a 1,000-fold increase in sensitivity as compared with available uncooled sensors. More information is available at the mPhase Web site at www.mPhaseTech.com
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