While today’s electrical cables are only used to transmit electricity, Dr. Jayan Thomas and his Ph.D. student, Zenan Yu, from the University of Central Florida may have developed a way to both transmit and store electricity through one lightweight copper wire.
Although Thomas and his students used copper wire, the professor says that this breakthrough could lead to other options as technology improves, and special fibers could be developed with nanostructures to conduct and store energy.
Thomas and his students started out attempting to store energy using a single copper wire, onto which they then grew a layer of nanowhiskers, a form of nanotechnology, on the outer surface. The whiskers were treated with a special alloy used to create an electrode; the team then figured out how to create a second electrode, which is required for this powerful energy storage.
The second electrode was made by adding a thin plastic sheet around the whiskers and then wrapping it around a metal sheath after generating nanowhiskers onto the second electrode. The layers were glued using a special gel, creating an inner copper wire for channeling electricity and an outer layer able to store power.
The result is a supercapacitor on a copper wire — a structure made to store powerful energy, such as the kind needed to start a vehicle.
The transmission and storage of energy on a copper wire has huge implications for other technology and would even make batteries obsolete. On a small scale, one could power an mp3 player or smartphone all with a single wire if given enough energy; if given more development, such power could be used to keep an electric car running.
To demonstrate the possibilities of this technology, Thomas plugged an LED light into the cable to exhibit the storage and transfer of energy. Like compact fluorescent bulbs, LEDs save energy and can reduce electrical costs in homes; having wires that store energy could mean bigger savings in energy consumption for everyone.
Yet this study could go beyond energy-saving LED lighting if Thomas’s results are considered an alternative energy source. News of this study broke just days after American Electric Power Company was declared the biggest source of carbon pollution in the United States.
In addition to powering lights and gadgets, the findings could also affect how we power our homes and how electricians install and repair our existing electrical systems.
Thomas stated that he got the idea for energy storage on a walk through his neighborhood. He and his students plan to continue work on the project to develop further innovations and discover greater possibilities, such as the use of clothing fibers to store energy just like the copper wire. Both Nature magazine and material science journal Advanced Materials have published pieces on Thomas’s findings.