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Russians harness star power in new battery

Russian scientists have allegedly invented a battery that can capture energy not only from the sun, but also from the stars.




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Official Website

Press Release


The battery is based on the creation of a new substance, making it twice as effective as an ordinary solar panel at converting light into electricity.

This battery is said to be able to work independent of meteorological conditions, using solar and stellar energy, enablign it to function 24 hours a day.


The new battery is said to be cheaper than a solar panel.

NEC Comment

On May 28, 2006, NEC member, Sterling D. Allan, writes:

A request has been sent to JINR for more information. From what can be gathered thus far, it would appear that this is basically just a more efficient solar technology -- so much so that even at night it can garner some energy from the stars. However, the amount of energy being harnessed at night is probably miniscule.

In the News


O'Bedlam's 2 cents...

Posted May 31, 2006, pm

My technical Russian is pretty rusty. I've been over some of the documents, and here is my 10,000 foot overview, prone to me going back with a grammar in hand and trying to re-verify what I'm reading.

This is pretty cool, if they've pulled it off. They're calling the class of materials "heterogenous materials", with the specific class in question "heteroelectric material". It got translated as "geteroelectric". Anyway, in the US we would normally call this a metamaterial instead of a "heterogenous material". You'll get a lot more action in Google et al if you look for "metamaterial". A note, this isn't your usual bogus Russian Pravda-online pseudo-science. This is real stuff, although there is a lot of material design work that I am betting they haven't completed. So these things are probably on the way, but I bet you they don't have them all in hand quite yet.

A metamaterial is a material that is custom designed for unnatural electromagnetic field effects. By that I mean you can choose the geometry and characteristics of the carrier material and the inclusions in order to achieve a pre-determined (this got mistranslated as "forecasting") electromagnetic characteristic, and in this case the characteristic you design for is typically the dielectric constant. Explaining that is tough; basically,a non-metallic material's electrons have a tendency to shift around the nucleus in a cloud. They don't "orbit" in the sense that you see sometimes in bad science fiction movies or really old chemistry books. They sort of hover around in a cloud. This electron cloud has a sort of elasticity and stiffness to it, if you want to visualize it that way. Some materials' electron clouds are looser, and can shift more easily, these materials are said to have a higher dielectric constant.

One of their claims is that they have invented a metamaterial capacitor with an unnaturally high dielectric constant. In a capacitor, the higher the dielectric constant of the capacitor's dielectric, the higher the capacitance will be for a given plate size and spacing. So, by using a metamaterial engineered for extremely high dielectric constants in a capacitor, you can achieve capacitors with values 100 to perhaps 1000 times the capacitance achievable with a "normal" dielectric. This is what they're calling a "stellar battery", it's a marketing sort of name for a really spectacular supercapacitor. If you thought 10F at 5V of capacitance in the palm of your hand was great, wait until you see a 100KF cap with a 50V working voltage. This will be worth it even if the other stuff falls through, and to me seems to be a "duh" sort of invention. The sort that you slap your head and say "duh" because you didn't think of it. O'Bedlam's reality rating: 9.5 out of 10.

Their other claims are for metamaterials that are not so much for altering dielectric constants as they are for engineering the behavior of the inclusions. For example, one of the claims is for constructing nanoinclusions consisting of P material while the carrier is N type material. It's like grinding up a photocell to make a zillion tiny ones. The metamaterial trick here is to amplify the sensitivity of the nanocells to a particular wavelength of light, the higher the dielectric constant of the metamaterial, the slower light travels in the material. So in effect, you're making longer IR wavelengths look shorter to the little particulate cells so that they will tend to absorb them. A neat trick, if you can pull it off, and this is one I'm more dubious about. I don't know if the "stellar cell" is hype or a demonstrable reality. O'Bedlam's reality rating: 7 out of me. I'd love it to be true, and it sounds ok in passing, but my "there's probably issues with this" alarms are going off.

Less spectacular and only mentioned in glancing was that you can make some really sweet mirrors out of this for laser use. They do bring up a metamaterial whose inclusions can be population inverted to form little lasers, with dielectric mirrors sort of "cast in" to the material. I see it as a possibility, but I think they're grasping: reality rating 4 out of 10.

The Russian materials are different in that they are engineered to increase the dielectric constant. We would typically go the other way, and when you look at what little you'll be able to find in the way of real data on US metamaterials, you'll find that we engineer for zero or negative dielectric constants. That's a really bizarre, unnatural state of affairs. If you're not into field physics you won't understand just how unnatural a zero or negative epsilon-r is. It has military implications. What I don't know is how much of Samoilov's work has already been done here and isn't in the searchable patent file. The US has spent a LOT of money on this stuff over the past 15 years. It's a hot field for the military and aerospace guys.

You may have seen some popularized stuff lately about "invisibility cloaks" and so on, this Russian material relates to that in a sort of odd way.


Valentin Samoilov, head of applied research at JINR, Dubna

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