Sadly, 20-Second Cell Phone Charging Probably Still Just a Dream

Last night, I wrote about Ionut Budisteanu, a Romanian teenager who won an Intel science award by inventing some cool technology that could make driverless cars cheaper. Today, Matt Yglesias picks up on this story, but also tells us about another award winner:

Eesha Khare, an 18 year-old from California, also did something with some major potential commercial applications and “developed a tiny device that fits inside cell phone batteries, allowing them to fully charge within 20-30 seconds.” We’re told that “Eesha’s invention also has potential applications for car batteries.”

I hadn’t noticed that, but a bit of googling produced several dozen breathless media reports about a new invention that will charge your cell phone in 20 seconds. I was a little skeptical: this didn’t sound like merely an Intel award winner, it sounded like a patentable invention that would turn Eesha Khare into an instant billionaire. So I checked into it a bit.

Long story short, it turns out that Khare did some interesting work in supercapacitors. This is obviously impressive for a teenager, but no, it’s not a fabulous new invention. Lots of companies have been working on supercapacitors for a long time, and lots of companies have investigated the specific chemistry that Khare used. The account here is perhaps a bit more dyspeptic than it should be, but I suspect the wrap-up is about right: “Add it all up and the central conclusion we can draw from all of this is that the mainstream media is stupid.”

Which is too bad. It would be nice to charge my cell phone in 20 seconds and my tablet in two minutes. Oh well.