University of Tulsa professors and students are making nanobatteries so small that special research equipment is needed to visualize and characterize them.
Dale Teeters, professor and chemistry department chair, has received approximately $530,000 from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and $120,000 from the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education to advance his research in nanotechnology, or the study of matter on the atomic or nano level.
The federal and state grants will fund three years of nanotechnology research at TU and will support a research team made up of two graduate students, two undergraduate students, and one post-doctoral fellow.
Teeters, who holds a patent for a nanobattery manufacturing process, has developed batteries so small that 240 of them can fit across a human hair. At this tiny scale, Teeters said that technology improvements are possible to greatly increase battery capacity for use in anything from cell phones and laptop computers to fuel cells that can generate electricity in remote locations.
When compared with the growth of computing power, advancements in battery technology has lagged, Teeters said. The new funding will allow him to use a nanoscale approach to solve technical problems that have inhibited the vast improvement of batteries for more than a decade.
"New ideas are needed to push battery performance to the next level, and nanotechnology may be the answer to the current technical obstacles," Teeters said. "This area of research has so much potential to impact how we store energy, and I’m excited to be a part of it."
While today’s “gold standard” technology is the lithium ion battery, Teeters said the lithium polymer electrolyte battery has the potential for even greater capacity. However, there are major electrochemical problems that must be solved if these battery systems are to achieve even higher performance, and Teeters will focus his research in this area.
"Work at TU, such as Professor Teeters’ nanobattery project, is indicative of our excellence in research and adds to our reputation for advancing cutting-edge technology," said Steven Bellovich, dean of the College of Engineering and Natural Sciences.
Teeters will also lead the TU Nanotechnology Institute, an interdisciplinary initiative, along with Theodore Manikas, assistant professor of electrical engineering. The institute will explore the vast opportunities for technological progress through nanotechnology. Some research topics include increasing the memory capacity in computers through nanobatteries, developing advanced sensor technology, creating efficient power sources, like fuel cells, and strengthening metals, plastics and other materials through engineering at the atomic scale (also called nanostructured materials).