Niobium nanowires may give wearable electronics a power boost

One of the major limiting factors for wearable electronics today is the size of the battery that can be placed inside. Since wearable devices have to be small and light enough to be worn comfortably there isn't much room inside for a battery. Researchers at MIT have developed a new approach to powering wearable electronics that promises to deliver short but intense bursts of power that wearable devices need to operate.

The breakthrough is a new approach to making supercapacitors, which are devices capable of storing and releasing power in bursts. MIT's new approach uses yarn made from nanowires comprised of an element called niobium as the electrodes in tiny supercapacitors.

The researchers have been able to create supercapacitors that provide high power density able to provide high power density in a burst, which is what is needed for tasks like transmitting data via WiFi and other uses. These new supercapacitors using the niobium yarn exceed the performance of existing batteries and take up a small volume of space.

The smaller volume could help reduce the volume of batteries by 30%, which would allow the wearable devices to be smaller. Researchers say that the new supercapacitor has high volumetric power density, medium energy density, and low cost. All of those are desirable traits for wearable devices. The niobium nanowires are also flexible enough to be woven into fabrics. The team is currently figuring out how to design a practical version of the material that can be easily manufactured.