By converting some of the wires inside memory chips into carbon nanotubes, researchers say that they could boost the battery life of cell phones and laptops and other mobile electronics by a factor of 100.
A big chunk of the battery drain on mobile devices comes from memory access. Whenever your phone or laptop does anything, it has to go get instructions from its memory, which costs electricity. Researchers from the University of Illinois have replaced a bunch of the tiny wires that channel electricity through digital memory with even tinier carbon nanotubes, which draw up to a hundred times less power.
Flash memory bits store data as electrical charges at relatively high voltages, and the amount of energy consumed is directly proportional to the size of the components that store the data, meaning that bigger components suck down more power. Reducing the scale of the electrical contacts to nanotube size makes such a big difference in efficiency that the research team believes that it might be feasible to run devices exclusively on energy harvested from kinetic motion or waste heat.
You're probably expecting this next bit: there's no word, yet, on when "nanotube phase-change memory" might actually be commercially available, especially since so far they've only actually been able to make a few hundred bits worth of the stuff. The researchers also say that they might be able to further improve the efficiency by another factor of 10, but you know what, I'll settle for just the 100 times improvement if you can get it to me slightly sooner.