A team of researchers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, MD, along with other institutions, has developed a toolset to allow them to explore the interior of microscopic, multi-layered batteries. This allows them insight into the batteries’ performance without destroying them — resulting in both a useful probe for scientists and a potential power source for micromachines.

A “nanoforest” of nanowire lithium-ion batteries (Credit: Oleshko/NIST)

The tiny lithium-ion batteries are created by taking a silicon wire a few micrometers long and covering it in successive layers of different materials, like a tree. The batteries are attached by their “roots” to silicon wafers and clustered together by the million into “nanoforests,” as the team dubs them.

The layers enable the batteries to store and discharge electricity, and even be recharged, which could make them valuable for powering autonomous MEMS, which have potential applications in many fields.

MEMS manufacturers could make use of the batteries themselves, a million of which can be fabricated on a square centimeter of a silicon wafer. But the same manufacturers also could benefit from the team’s analytical toolset, they said.

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