Beyond lithium – the future of batteries

As the need for power grows, the search for better battery technology continues. Pressure continues to come from the smartphone producers looking to increase phone battery life, car manufacturers developing electric cars and those working on storage options for the solar and wind power industry.

For these industries the last 25 years have been dominated by lithium-ion based batteries which pack large amounts of energy into a relatively small space. Although these powerful, lightweight batteries have been at the forefront of battery development limitations are known.

“There’s a sense that existing lithium-ion batteries and related charging technologies are reaching their limitations,” said CCS Insight.

Research into new options has already begun with Samsung developing a battery based on a ‘graphene ball’ that could potentially boost battery capacity by up to 45% and take just 12 minutes to recharge. Despite being a step forward, this technology only really represents and enhancement to lithium-ion batteries, rather than a replacement.

Let’s run through some more of the alternatives currently being researched:

Gold nanowire batteries 

Nanowire battery advancement, at the University of California Irvine, means nanowire batteries can now withstand more recharging than ever before, meaning future batteries may never die. Previously nanowires haven’t been able to withstand the recharging process but the use of gold nanowires in a gel electrolyte has changed that. These batteries were tested recharging over 200k times in a three-month period and showed no sign of degradation, proving the possibility of increased battery lifespans. 

Solid state lithium-ion

Toyota published a paper with the results from their solid-state battery tests a couple of years ago. They tested a solid-state battery that used sulphide supersonic conductors which operate at super capacitor levels. This superior battery can completely charge or discharge in just 7 minutes, making it ideal for electronic cars. Despite solid-state batteries being more stable, work is needed on the electrolyte materials meaning it’s unlikely that we are going to see these batteries in operation for a little while. But it’s a step in the right direction for the production of safer, faster charging batteries.

Foam batteries

Prieto have managed to produce a new battery that uses copper foam substrate. The use of foam means these batteries will not only be safer, thanks to the removal of flammable electrolytes but they’ll offer longer lifespans, quicker charging and be cheaper to produce.

Although not yet ready, the long-term plan is to be able to get these batteries into smartphones and cars of the future.

Ultrasound

uBeam uses ultrasound to transmit electricity with power turned into sound waves, that are then transmitted and converted back to power upon reaching the device. Gadgets will need a thin receiver attached to them to receive the charge, but it means charging is possible through the air.

Sand batteries

Sand batteries offer an alternative type of lithium-ion battery with three-times the performance of a standard Li-ion battery. This battery is still lithium-ion but uses sand instead of graphite anodes, making this better performing, low cost, non-toxic and environmentally friendly battery a real alternative to the standard lithium-ion battery found in your smartphone.

Sodium-ion batteries

Scientists at the University of Birmingham are working on new types of batteries that use sodium, one of the most common materials found on the planet, rather than rare lithium. They should be up to 7 times more efficient than conventional batteries whilst being significantly cheaper to produce. Research into these batteries has been ongoing since the ‘80s in Japan but is expected to be ready for smartphones, cars and more within the next decade.

These are just a few of what’s being developed and although it’s thought that over the next five years lithium-ion is likely to remain the basis of most batteries used in smartphones, there is plenty of innovation happening in the industry. The future of batteries looks bright! In the mean time you can get your replacement smartphone batteries here.

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