Fuentek's Tech Transfer Blog

NASA’s Copolymer Gel Electrolyte versus SpongeBob SquarePants? No Contest!

NASA inventor Dean Tigelaar displays
copolymer gel electrolyte.

Editor’s note: This technology is no longer available for licensing.

Most people have heard of the cartoon phenomenon SpongeBob SquarePants®. The extremely energetic and optimistic sponge lives in a pineapple under the sea. Absorbent and yellow and porous is he. Sometimes humorous, sometimes agitating, SpongeBob now and then refers to himself as Mr. Absorbency. But SpongeBob is a natural sponge with a pretty limited capacity, which means he’d be a pretty lame battery.

“What does SpongeBob have to do with batteries,” you ask? It comes down to porosity. You see, for batteries, the more electrolyte it can hold, the better the battery. So, when comparing absorbency, we think SpongeBob has a competitor for the throne.

If we pitted SpongeBob against NASA’s new gel electrolyte developed by scientists at NASA’s Glenn Research Center, it would be NO CONTEST as to who would be crowned King of Absorbency. Without a doubt it would be the space agency’s copolymer gel electrolyte for lithium ion batteries. This novel material can hold four times its weight in liquid! An advanced battery made with NASA’s gel electrolyte would have enhanced performance and be safer than any existing batteries, because there are no volatile or flammable components.

This is why NASA’s technology transfer program is offering this intellectual property as a technology licensing opportunity.

Potential uses for this NASA innovation are as numerous as fish in the sea. It can enhance the performance of rechargeable lithium ion polymer gel batteries in applications such as:

  • Wafer-thin geometries, such as batteries for “smart cards”
  • Portable electronics such as cell phones, personal digital assistants (PDAs), laptops, digital music devices, and wireless controllers
  • Battery-powered robots
  • Lightweight radio-controlled cars and aircraft
  • Grid power storage (for example, storing solar power during the day for use at night)
  • Portable tools
  • Automobile batteries

NASA developed the technology to enhance the safety and performance of lithium-based polymer batteries used in aerospace applications, which need to work at temperatures ranging from -70°C to +70°C. NASA scientists created the electrolyte as a polyimide-polyethylene oxide (PEO) rod-coil copolymer gel with a highly cross-linked three-dimensional structure. The resulting nanoscale voids are filled with liquid and, when incorporated with ionic liquids, they can realize an increase in ionic conductivity of two orders of magnitude.

Basically, the technology enables an environmentally friendly fabrication method for producing batteries with high ionic conductivity, high cycling stability, mechanical strength, and increased life cycle. Try to top that, SpongeBob!

Created by Stephen Hillenburg, SpongeBob SquarePants is a trademark of Viacom International Inc.