Boffins in Illinois believe they have figured out how to design a battery with ten times the energy density of the best of today's lithium-ion batteries.
Their challenge now: work out how to make the thing.
The design is called a "digital quantum battery" and it comes from University of Illinois Director of the Center for Complex Systems Research Alfred Hubler, who has written up his thoughts in a piecepennedfor the journalComplexity.
That battery incorporates a vast number of microscopic capacitors build from electrodes 10nm apart, separated by an insulator. According to Hubler, quantum effects, present because of nanometre scale of the capacitor, prevent the charge on one electrode jumping to the other when the electric field between the electrodes reaches a critical point.
The upshot: a capacitor that can hold a monster charge, relatively speaking. Build an array containing billions of these things and you have the makings of an über-battery for laptops, e-cars and the like.
Charging time would be several orders of magnitude quicker than is the case with today's lithium-ion power packs, Hubler reckons.
If all this is beginning to sound like the proverbial free lunch, it gets better. Hubler believes the manufacturing techniques used by the likes of Intel and AMD to make chips could be used to build these nanocapacitor arrays. A prototype could be built in a year, apparently, provided someone coughs up some cash to fund the research.