Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have developed new microbatteries which out-power even the best supercapacitors and could drive new applications in radio communications and compact electronics.

Currently capacitors are used for applications that need a lot of power because they can release energy very quickly – however, can only store a small amount of energy. Batteries or fuel cells are used for applications that need a lot of energy because they can hold a large amount of energy but they release or recharge it slowly.

The new microbatteries offer both power and energy. They owe their high performance to their internal three-dimensional microstructure.

In 2010 a research team, led by Professor Paul Braun, at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign developed a fast-charging cathode. Now, a second team, led by Professor William King, at the University has developed a matching anode and a way to integrate the two components at the microscale to make a complete battery with superior performance.

The batteries can be tuned over a wide range on the power-versus-energy scale by adjusting their structure.

The researchers say that the batteries can charge 1,000 times faster than competing technologies and have enough power to enable sensors or radio signals that broadcast 30 times farther or devices 30 times smaller.