Postgraduate student Mya Le Thai was just “playing around” in the energy research lab at the University of California Irvine when she coated a gold nanowire with both a manganese dioxide shell and an electrolyte gel. But her playful experiment broke through a barrier that energy researchers have been fighting for decades—the degradation limit on how many times a battery can be recharged.
Lithium-ion batteries, like those in most of our cell phones and electric cars, tend to fail after about five to six thousand recharges as the nanowires within break down. It’s like a built-in self-destruction. But her coating proved to extend the lifetime of those nanowires to a shocking degree.
After three months of testing and over 200,000 cycles of discharging and recharging the coated nanowires, the batteries showed no signs of degradation. While they’ve yet to actually make a battery with the new advance, all evidence suggests that they could be made to last more than 33 times longer. Your next iPhone might have a battery expected to last more than five hundred years if this new technology lives up to its promise.
“The coated electrode holds its shape better, making it a more reliable option,” said Thai. “This research proves that a nanowire-based battery electrode can have a long lifetime and that we can make these kinds of batteries a reality.”
Thai, along with the rest of her team from UCI, published their findings in The American Chemical Society’s Energy Letters back in April, and the University of Maryland is working on confirming their results. Since her discovery, she has graduated with her PhD in chemistry, and continues to work in energy research at UC Irvine. At 27, she’s a bilingual polymath, a trailblazer in energy studies, and a leader in UCI’s STEM programs.