UCI News

Advanced technology designed by nature

As hybrid-electric vehicles gain popularity, UCI scientists turn to nature to improve battery design.

by Jason Mednick, University Communications | February 9, 2009
Advanced technology designed by nature
A fractal created by Sterling 2, a computer program written by Stephen C. Ferguson, generates a variety of patterns.

Fractals are everywhere in nature – in snowflakes and swirling seashells, ferns and even lightning bolts.

UC Irvine scientists are applying the concept of fractals – elegant geometric patterns composed of small pieces that resemble the larger whole – to develop technology that could extend battery life and shorten recharge time.

“Nature uses fractal designs in many instances – for example the lungs, which are composed of increasingly smaller tube-shaped bronchi,” says Marc Madou, Chancellor’s Professor of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering. “Fractals are advantageous in situations requiring minimal energy loss and maximum transport efficiency. Interestingly, this concept also applies to battery electrode design.”

Shaping electrical conductors inside batteries into fractal-like forms (which results in an increased surface area) could lead to battery designs that are one-half to one-third the size of current models while maintaining the same performance level.

These small, powerful batteries one day could power the next generation of hybrid-electric vehicles.

“Battery technology has advanced only incrementally in the last decade,” says Genis Turon, mechanical engineering doctoral student. “We hope our novel batteries with fractal electrodes will contribute to vastly improved battery technology.”

Scientists at UCI and the Los Alamos National Laboratory will collaborate to model, build and test electrode designs. The research is funded by a $740,000 grant from the UC Lab Research Program.