This simple looking membrane could change the industry.

If you want a rechargeable battery in a power-hungry device today, the only real choice is a lithium-ion battery. They are heavy, quite large depending on how much charge you need, and volatile. They also have a high cost and limited life span.

A replacement for lithium-ion has long been sought after, and recently there have been some breakthroughs such as the jelly-like polymer battery. However, researchers at the National University of Singapore may have come up with the best solution yet in the form of an new energy storage membrane…

Thought to be the first energy membrane ever created successfully, the Nanoscience and Nanotechnology Initiative at the university has managed to attach the membrane to a polystyrene polymer. When placed between two graphite plates it can be charged and stores a charge.

Already, the membrane is at an advantage as it is thin and flexible meaning there’s potential for a number of configurations. But where the real benefit comes in is how much energy it can store and at what cost.

A typical lithium-ion battery can store a charge of 1 microfarad per square centimeter. The energy membrane ups that to 0.2 farads. The membrane can also be easily mass produced at very low cost, meaning what we have here is a membrane that can store more energy and is cheaper to produce than existing battery technology.

In real world terms the difference is quite staggering. A lithium-ion battery costs $7 to store one farad of charge. The energy membrane reduces that down to 62 cents. Another way to look at it is the membrane stores 20Wh (watt-hour) per dollar spent where as the lithium-ion battery is limited to 2.5Wh.

The research team working on the membrane is led by Dr. Xie Xian Ning. He is keen to point out the benefits of the additional energy storage, low cost fabrication, and environmentally-friendly nature of the materials used. Because it takes the form of a very thin, flexible material, it could easily be integrated into solar panels, hybrid vehicles, or as an energy storage layer spanning a mobile device’s entire surface area, rather than the more typical block-like batteries we use today.

A U.S. Patent has already be filed for the membrane and the university is now seeking investment to commercialize it as a battery. If the membrane performs as expected, I doubt there will be much trouble securing funding.