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Why teenage girl's smartphone battery breakthrough may never see daylight

Colin Neagle | May 30, 2013
Solaroad CEO threatens patent suit if 18-year-old California student tries to commercialize her research on supercapacitors

Eesha Khare, an 18-year-old senior at Lynbrook High School in San Jose, Calif., won both the first prize at the Intel Science Fair and the Project of the Year award for the senior division of the California State Science Fair with her research on supercapacitors.

However, her work has also attracted the attention of the company that holds a patent involving similar technology, and its CEO says he may be forced to bring legal action against her if she tries to commercialize it.

Khare's work on supercapacitors, specifically the creation of a nanorod electrode capacitor with the ability to achieve the energy density of a supercapacitor, could help manufacturers make proper use of flexible displays for smartphones, according to Tech News World.

Specifically, Khare's work with supercapacitors could make a difference in the design and performance of smartphone batteries, which, in turn, could help make flexible smartphones a reality. According to Tech News World, Khare's design involved a hydrogenated titanium dioxide core, which, when combined with its polyaniline shell, increases both capacitance and density, essentially meaning the battery could create more energy and store it for longer. In a test, Khare's supercapacitor boasted a capacitance of 238.5 Farads per gram, a substantial improvement from the 80 Farads per gram achieved with alternative designs.

Practically, supercapacitors could help make for smaller internal components in smartphones.

"Perhaps instead of two batteries or cells, you might have a single battery or cell with something like this capacitor to recharge the battery," Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research, told Tech News World.

In addition to Intel, Google has already been in touch with Khare regarding her work with supercapacitors. Although she has yet to follow up with Google's inquiry, Khare told Tech News World that her initial goal was to apply her research to a commercial idea.

But aside from the developmental barriers experts warned Tech News World about issues with sustained power and risks of explosion Khare's work violates a 2005 patent filed by green energy company Solaroad Technologies, according to company CEO Kahrl Retti. He says he has been working on similar technology since the 1980s, and that while Khare's work is impressive, it is in violation of the patents involving nanocapacitor technology that Solaroad Technologies has already commercialized.

Among other products, Solaroad sells green energy solutions optimized for electric cars, including the use of solar power to recharge electric car batteries. The company is also in the process of designing its own electric car.

Retti says the main issue is that academic institutions often support technological research without first checking to see if the work may violate patents protecting others' intellectual property. Making matters worse is the visibility that academia receive for these projects, which undermines the efforts of private sector companies or inventors who have been vying for the same publicity, and subsequent funding, for years.


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