Using nanocellulose broken down from tree fibres the research team have produced an elastic, foam-like battery material that can withstand shock and stress.
One benefit of the new wood-based aerogel material is that it can be used for three-dimensional structures. A 3D structure enables storage of more power in less space than is possible with conventional batteries.
"There are limits to how thin a battery can be, but that becomes less relevant in 3D, " explained Max Hamedi, who is a researcher at KTH and Harvard University. "We are no longer restricted to two dimensions. We can build in three dimensions, enabling us to fit more electronics in a smaller space."
"Three-dimensional, porous materials have been regarded as an obstacle to building electrodes. But we have proven that this is not a problem. In fact, this type of structure and material architecture allows flexibility and freedom in the design of batteries."
The process for creating the material begins with breaking down tree fibres, making them roughly one million times thinner. The nanocellulose is dissolved, frozen and then freeze-dried so that the moisture evaporates without passing through a liquid state.
Then the material goes through a process in which the molecules are stabilised so that the material does not collapse.
"The result is a material that is both strong, light and soft," said Hamedi. "The material resembles foam in a mattress, though it is a little harder, lighter and more porous. You can touch it without it breaking."
A closeup of the soft battery, created with wood pulp nanocellulose. (Image: courtesy of Max Hamedi and Wallenberg Wood Science Center)