Quadrupled battery capacity moves a step closer

We all dream of a battery that will not let us down but the reality is that the more that our mobile tech does the more energy it uses.

 

Wi-Fi, GPS, NFC, Bluetooth, 4G and growing screen sizes all eat up precious battery reserves and before you know it your phone, phablet, tablet or wearable has shut down or is pestering you with notifications of its imminent death.

 

Almost every brand has played around with advanced battery saving modes and by shutting down apps running in the background and using asynchronous processors where individual cores can be powered up and down when needed, progress has been made.

 

So now we have talked about saving power it’s time to talk about more power!

 

Pure lithium anode batteries

 

Researchers at Stanford University recently published a paper in the journal Nature Nanotechnology in which they claim to have taken a big step towards creating a stable pure lithium anode.

 

Phys.org explain that a battery is made up from 3 basic components. The electrolyte provides electrons, the anode discharges those electrons and a cathode receives them.

 

Now, you may say that we already have lithium batteries but this is only partly true. Today we use lithium ion batteries in which the electrolyte is lithium but not the anode.

 

Lithium ion batteries

 

If the anode was made from pure lithium then there would be a huge increase in efficiency as lithium is very lightweight and has the highest energy density. This means that you would get more power per volume and weight which could be used to create either smaller batteries or more powerful batteries.

 

But until now researchers have struggled for over a decade to produce a stable lithium anode. There have been several hurdles to overcome which centre around the fact that lithium anodes are highly chemically reactive with the electrolyte.

 

Unprotected the lithium anodes expand hugely and unevenly during charging and this leads to cracks from where lithium ions are lost, effectively short-circuiting the battery and reducing its life.

 

A further problem is that lithium batteries overheat quickly and this can lead to fires or even exploding batteries, which we have seen reported in the press in recent times.

 

Nanospheres

 

For the first time the researchers at Stanford have overcome these problems in an area of research that many had given up on. The Stanford team coated the lithium anodes with a honeycomb of carbon domes just 20 nanometers thick which they call nanospheres.

 

This nanosphere is just 1 thousandth of the thickness of a human hair but protects the lithium anode from the electrolyte and unwanted chemical reactions.

 

The unique properties of strength and flexibility of the carbon nanospheres is a breakthrough that should lead to tripled or quadrupled battery power in the future.

 

The big question now is will manufacturers want to create mobile devices with extra long lasting batteries or create tech that is lighter and thinner than anything we have ever seen before.

 

I predict that we will see both in a classic battle of practicality over design.

 

Written by: Michael Brown

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