Jayan Thomas, Ph.D., first emerged on the radar of FORWARD Florida in 2013 as an assistant professor at the University of Central Florida’s NanoScience Technology Center in Orlando. At the time, he was featured in Advanced Materials, one of the world’s leading peer-reviewed scientific journals for his work on energy storage for supercapacitors unlocking potential for powering high-speed trains, electric cars and the emergency doors of the Airbus A380.
Fast forward to present day, and Thomas is being recognized with national awards for his work in transmission and storage of energy through electrical cables that are ultra thin, known as “nanowhiskers.” This technology can revolutionize the way we access energy, making batteries obsolete. The applications are exciting in a multitude of industries, including electronics, transportation, aerospace and defense.
R&D Magazine recently recognized UCF and Thomas at its annual R&D 100 Awards. Widely known as the “Oscars of Invention,” the prestigious awards have a 50-plus year history of honoring excellence in technology innovations. His above nanowire energy work took place at the NanoScience Technology Center, UCF’s College of Optics and Photonics, and the College of Engineering and Computer Science.
Essentially, Thomas developed a better way to create, store and use power for everyday items such as phones, computers and cars by transforming a simple electrical cable into something much more.
He has taken a copper wire and covered it with billions of nanowires. The wire acts just like a battery, creating energy on the inside and storing it on the outside. In turn, creating and saving energy in small wires can save significant space and render heavy batteries irrelevant.
“We’re developing a self-sustainable energy source that can be portable and used at any time, anywhere,” explains Thomas, who received his doctorate from the Cochin University of Science and Technology in India. “It’s a compelling proposition that has significant ramifications for a variety of industries including aerospace, heavy machinery and electric automobiles.”
Need a cellphone charge on the run? Just slip it into your pocket.
“We envision the wire also being weaved into fabric so that your jacket can charge your electronic devices,” he says. “In this scenario, you would just place your mobile smart device into your pocket to charge it — that’s a game-changer.”
Interest in Thomas’ innovative research into electrical cables that can store and transmit energy — and the nanowhiskers that form the foundation of this capability — had been gaining momentum at the national level. His motivation for the technology occurred more than a year ago when he discovered stray cables lying about while on a walk one evening. Thomas had taken a stroll to ponder the subject of energy storage and in a burst of inspiration, a novel thought occurred to him: Cables transmit energy, but why can’t they also store it?
He and his researchers, including UCF graduate student Zenan Yu, focused on the core of the copper wire. They found that growing billions of nanowhiskers on the surface of the core multiplies the total area and turns the wire into a dual-purpose (transmitting and storing) cable. Increasing the surface area via the nanowhiskers allows the wire to act like a battery. However, while the typical battery can be recharged approximately 1,000 times over its lifespan, Thomas’ nanowire can be recharged more than 10,000 times.
See the nanowire technology in action:
The new electrical cable can replace conventional supercapacitors when it is used in place of standard, non-energy-storing wires.
Notably, supercapacitors have been around since the 1960s and are similar to batteries as they store energy. The difference is that supercapacitors can provide higher amounts of power for shorter periods of time, making them very useful for heavy machinery and other applications that require large amounts of energy to start. However, due to their innate low energy density, supercapacitors are limited in the amount of energy that they can store.
Until Thomas’s discovery of a new way to power the world.
Aside from the industry Oscar, Thomas is no stranger to awards. Last year, he was the recipient of the National Science Foundation Career Award, as well as UCF’s 2014 Excellence in Research Award. He also received the Veeco Award for Best Nanotechnology Innovation in 2010.
Indeed, Thomas and his team give new meaning to UCF’s sports chant, “Charge On.”