Technology Futures

Commentaries on Directions That Will Impact the Future of Technology

Archive for the tag “Almaden Research”

IBM’s Uber Battery: Can it be real?

Battery 500 Project Demo System

A few weeks ago, I blogged about the Envia company, and its claimed breakthrough in battery technology.  As you would suspect, lots of other people are working on battery technology with the aim of producing an all-electric car that will go 500 miles without needing to be recharged.  One of the most promising efforts is IBM’s Battery 500 project.

With the initial research begun in 2009 at IBM’s Almaden research labs in California, this past week IBM announced that it has built a prototype that demonstrates the efficacy of the technology.  Wired Enterprise calls it the “Uber Battery,” a descriptor I stole for the title of this post.  IBM is not doing this alone.  It is collaborating with researchers in both Europe and Asia, along with universities and National Labs in the US.  Nevertheless, IBM is the driving force, and the project is an outgrowth of IBM’s well-publicized investment in nanotechnology.

It is difficult for a non-chemist to grasp the technology, but, briefly, the system works by using oxygen drawn from the air much as it is drawn into a conventional combustion engine.  Inside the battery’s  cells, the oxygen slips into tiny spaces that measure about an angstrom (0.00000000001 meters), and reacts with lithium ions situated on the battery’s cathode. That reaction turns the lithium ions to lithium peroxide, releasing electrons, thus generating electricity.  For more information oriented to the layman, go to the following website and check out the videos.

IBM credits much of the research advancement to the so-called Blue Gene supercomputers, used to analyze electro-chemical reactions to find alternative electrolyte materials that won’t degrade the battery while recharging.  These computers, located at Argonne National Lab and in Zurich, Switzerland have rung up tens of millions of processor-hours on the project.  The computer modeling is being used to determine how the ions and molecules of different materials will interact.  The hope is to find the optimum combination of materials that will permit commercialization of the technology.

The downside is that it is not expected to be commercialized until at least 2020.  In the meantime, auto manufacturers around the world are licking their collective chops.  If this technology is successful, it will signal the end of imported oil in the US.  The geopolitical implications are enormous.


IBM Atomic Memory Breakthrough: A Computing Revolution

Today, it takes approximately 1 million atoms to store a single bit (0 or 1) of information using conventional magnetic storage technology.  Researchers at IBM’s Almaden Laboratory in San Jose, California led by Dr. Andreas Heinrich, have accomplished the same feat with only 12 atoms!

Before we get too excited, it was done by reducing the temperature to near absolute zero (-458 degrees F), which is a bit impractical for ordinary use.  Nevertheless, the researchers think that stable storage can be accomplished with as few as 150 atoms at room temperatures.

If you are interested in the details of the technology, they have been published in Science, the journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, one of the world’s top scientific publications.  Suffice it to say that this discovery may have enormous implications for the future of computing.  Not only will the density of storage be reduced by orders of magnitude, but power requirements will follow suit.

For decades, the computer industry has followed the dictates of Moore’s Law which says that transistor count will double on integrated circuits every two years.   If IBM’s research becomes practical reality, Moore’s Law will go the way of the dodo.  Atomic-scale memory is 100x denser than hard disk drives, 160x denser than NAND flash chips, 417x denser than DRAM components, and 10,000x denser than SRAM chips.  This is truly a game changer.

Practical implementation of this “nanomemory”will require the discovery of new materials that don’t presently exist.  IBM researchers think that will happen, but that it could take 5 – 10 years.  Fortunately, IBM is making a full-court press.  It has been investing upwards of $100 million per year in nanotechnology research, and intends to continue investing at that rate.

IBM has “opened its kimono” a bit on the subject.  Besides the Science article, which is geared to scientists, IBM has tried to explain what this is all about in terms most lay persons can understand.  If you are interested, go to this website and this one

Memory Array Made up of 12 Atoms


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