While its design and performance have evolved since Italian Count Alessandro Volta invented the battery in 1799, there’s plenty of room for further improvement.

Battery life, power, recharging times, size, and weight are just a few parameters that beg for upgrades.

In fact, drawbacks in current battery technology are impeding advancements in existing products—including cell phones and laptop computers—and in new applications—such as the electric car. Wagner and his team at the Wagner Lab within the University’s Columbian College of Arts and Sciences Department of Chemistry are leading a charge to improve the battery.

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As for drawbacks, their life span is determined by two factors: the date of their manufacture (shelf life—they begin to age after they are manufactured, whether used or not) and how many times they are charged/discharged (cycle life).

Each time the battery is charged/discharged, it loses more and more of its capacity to be charged.

Not only are we improving the life of the battery, but we are improving it with inexpensive ‘garbage.’” How much has the battery life been improved?

According to testing thus far, Wagner’s team has found that graphite treated with fullerenes retains more than 99 percent of its charge capacity after 200 charge-discharge cycles, while under the same conditions, untreated graphite retains only about 21 percent of its capacity.

This means that one doesn’t have to replace batteries very often.” To accomplish this, Wagner’s team used a relatively new type of nanomaterial: fullerenes.

Fullerenes are a form of carbon discovered in 1985.“There are various measures that define battery performance.One is energy density, which is a measure of how much energy a battery can store.The ions shuffle between two electrodes: one of graphite (the negative electrode) and the other of metal oxide (the positive electrode).As the battery is charged, the ions are attracted to the graphite; during discharging, the ions head for the metal oxide.“We thought the similarities between graphite and fullerenes were very interesting,” Wagner says.