Breakthrough could bring tenfold increase in battery life

By on November 16, 2011, 7:30 AM

Although the autonomy of mobile computing devices has improved in the last decade, the gains are mostly through advancements in microprocessor and display technologies. Batteries themselves have remained largely unchanged in recent years, but a team of engineers at Northwestern University claims to have discovered a breakthrough that could revolutionize the industry.

The researchers have developed an electrode for lithium-ion batteries that increases the capacity and recharge rate by 10 times. If accurate, the innovation could afford smartphones with an all-week battery life instead of a day, and recharge times would be measured in minutes instead of hours. Even after a year of regular use, such a battery would be five times more efficient.

Lithium-ion batteries are charged by a chemical reaction that causes lithium ions to move between the anode and cathode. As energy is used, lithium ions travel from the anode to the cathode through the electrolyte. This is reversed when recharging. The anode is composed of carbon-based graphene sheets and they can only handle one lithium atom per six carbon atoms.

Scientists have attempted to replace carbon with silicon because it is far more efficient at transferring lithium atoms, but its charging capacity degrades too quickly. Meanwhile, because the graphene sheets inside today's batteries are only one carbon atom thick and comparatively long, the recharging process is hindered. Physorg describes the process as an "ionic traffic jam."

The researchers have drastically improved both qualities by sandwiching clusters of silicon between the graphene sheets. This stabilizes the silicon while allowing the graphene to transfer a larger number of lithium atoms. To improve the recharge rate, the team uses chemical oxidation to create tiny 10-20nm holes in the graphene sheets, giving the lithium ions many shorter paths to travel instead of clumping along the edges.

It's said that the group has focused on improving the anode but it should make further refinements when it begins working on the cathode. The technology is expected to reach consumers within three to five years. A full overview written by researcher Harold H. Kung has been published by Advanced Energy Materials (Volume 1, Issue 6, pages 1079-1084). That release is available through Wiley online library, though it's not free.




User Comments: 29

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Arris Arris said:

Fantastic. Have thought that for years, all tech seems to be advancing quickly apart from that of batteries. Looking forward to this tech hitting the streets in a few years.

bugejakurt said:

This is insanely great! I hope developments do not halt and more effort is taken to improve battery life. I hope this breakthrough could be available sooner though. (of course after the necessary tests has been carried out.)

MilwaukeeMike said:

Hey Google! Put down the self-driving car and space elevator, throw some money at batteries, you're missing out guys!

treeski treeski said:

"The technology is expected to reach consumers within three to five years"

Wow is that disappointing.

ghostchili said:

If capacity is up x10 and they charge 10 times faster wouldn't the charge time be the same as it is now..The article states charge time in minutes not hours.

lchu12 lchu12 said:

Wonder whats the cost to get these batteries to be integrated with today's tech...

Marv Marv said:

ghostchili said:

If capacity is up x10 and they charge 10 times faster wouldn't the charge time be the same as it is now..The article states charge time in minutes not hours.

No. What this means is that the energy density is up 10 fold (IE, rather than the Galaxy S II having a 1.45Ah battery, it'll be able to have a 14.5Ah battery with no size increase). At the moment, batteries can be charged (generally) at 1C - I.E the Galaxy S II's battery can be charged at 1.45A normally without issue. Some more high performance batteries (those used in the R/C market for instance) can be charged at 10C, so a rate 10x that of the capacity. This battery technology is promising 10x the charge rate (the C), so it depends on which sort of battery they're comparing it with.

Charging a battery at 10C means for the SGSII you'd have to charge at 14.5A (or with the 10x capacity, 145A), which is far more than a USB port is designed to supply (1A @ 5V, which means current phones charge at less than 1C already). I can't see the charge rate increase being utilised by most consumer electronics, but it's nice to have if the technology could be used with electric cars.

Scshadow said:

treeski said:

"The technology is expected to reach consumers within three to five years"

Wow is that disappointing.

Thats disappointing? Whats disappointing is I could bet my life savings that we will not see this in 10 years. There has been a few articles over the years about battery technology and I've yet to see anything result of it. And with technology, manufacturers don't like to make big jumps. They like to spoon feed innovations. So if they give us this technology, they'll reduce its full potential somehow.

lchu12 said:

Wonder whats the cost to get these batteries to be integrated with today's tech...

I would think the answer would be 0 beyond the cost of producing the battery itself. Same battery design except using better materials. But no doubt they'll change the battery connection so you'll have to upgrade your phone first but thats par for the course and 2 years to phase out old batteries isn't that bad.

Kibaruk Kibaruk, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Well if those are technological years we could be seeing that next year perhaps? I hope they get more funds after this huge breakthrough and get more people to work on it =)

Guest said:

Although a great advancement in battery life; It will never make it to market.

Ok do I sell 10 batteries or 1 battery.

Humm

More profitable to sell 10

Humm

I sell 10

Ok

Guest said:

occupy batteries

TJGeezer said:

Guest said:

occupy batteries

Occupy @Guest remarks :-D

I always take these revolutionary new approaches with a few grains of salt. As me olde grandpappy used to say, the devil's always in the details and you don't see him until you go digging. So we shall see.

Where this tech could have a very immediate effect on society is its potential benefits for the range, weight and cost of electric vehicles for consumers. They could become much more affordable and practical if the tech lives up to the researchers' glowing reports.

TJGeezer said:

Guest said:

occupy batteries

Occupy @Guest remarks :-D

I always take these revolutionary new approaches with a few grains of salt. As me olde grandpappy used to say, the devil's always in the details and you don't see him until you go digging. So we shall see.

Where this tech could have a very immediate effect on society is its potential benefits for the range, weight and cost of electric vehicles for consumers. They could become much more affordable and practical if the tech lives up to the researchers' glowing reports.

Relic Relic, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

I hope we do get to see this in the coming years as battery life is the biggest drain for sure =P.

SalaSSin said:

Oblig:

http://xkcd.com/678/

=D

Guest said:

there's no information in 'batteries' - googles only interest is information.

IAMTHESTIG said:

If this actually happens, electric and hybrid cars may not be as useless as they are now... The main problem with these cars right now is battery capacity, long recharge times, and longevity.

chaboi390 said:

Very Interesting... I would like a demo on this to see the layout of the battery

Guest said:

Never gonna happen.

Big Oil will lobby against it. Buy the patent then burn the prototypes.

matrix86 matrix86 said:

Guest said:

Never gonna happen.

Big Oil will lobby against it. Buy the patent then burn the prototypes.

.....what the H, E, double hokey sticks does oil have to do with any of this?

hellokitty[hk] hellokitty[hk], I'm a TechSpot Evangelist, said:

I always take these revolutionary new approaches with a few grains of salt. As me olde grandpappy used to say, the devil's always in the details and you don't see him until you go digging. So we shall see.

Indeed.

Also, I think it's pretty difficult to charge a battery of that size at a fast rate.

lawfer, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Guest said:

Never gonna happen.

Big Oil will lobby against it. Buy the patent then burn the prototypes.

lolwut?

Guest said:

RE: Comment on oil companies...

The oil companies will see that this technology and how it has wide ranging applications beyond mobile devices. Namely the integration into electric cars. Considering that this technology could potentially solve one of the major disadvantages of current electric cars, you can see why an oil company could feel threatened...Hence the comment about the oil companies buying the patent (to stop further development).

Butch said:

Guest said:

RE: Comment on oil companies...

The oil companies will see that this technology and how it has wide ranging applications beyond mobile devices. Namely the integration into electric cars. Considering that this technology could potentially solve one of the major disadvantages of current electric cars, you can see why an oil company could feel threatened...Hence the comment about the oil companies buying the patent (to stop further development).

This is absolutely correct. Big oil will likely buy the patent and we will never see this. I am an engineer in this field and I can tell you I have witnessed this personally on at least 3 occasions. Battery tech will not improve until we are nearly out of oil (and natural gas etc) and then it will be the the oil companies that control this tech and there is nothing to be done about it without drastic legislative changes and that will not happen until we are are on the brink of disaster. Sorry folks, keep your chargers handy..

tehbanz tehbanz said:

I recall roughly 3-5 years ago reading something about "Fancy brand new battery technology promises 10 hours of battery life" i remember reading it used some sort of fiber-mesh to store electricity and they could mash tons of these fibers into the battery thusly storing tons of energy, Having just bought my first laptop and feleing limited by the 4 hours (now 1hour, hah!) I i thought this was very exciting news, yet here I sit 3-5 years later still reading about 4 hour battery life.

So this story doesn't seem too promising.

Guest said:

Quote(Butch) "This is absolutely correct. Big oil will likely buy the patent and we will never see this. I am an engineer in this field and I can tell you I have witnessed this personally on at least 3 occasions. Battery tech will not improve until we are nearly out of oil (and natural gas etc) and then it will be the the oil companies that control this tech and there is nothing to be done about it WITHOUT DRASTIC LEGISLATIVE CHANGES and that will not happen until we are are on the brink of disaster. Sorry folks, keep your chargers handy"

Exactly, at 2011, it is the world economy and the power of Finantial, Service and a pletora of industries that will get hurt if Oil Companies are let behave as they've done until now.

Ie if whole economy sectors together with Microsoft, Intel and the rest of IT firms realize that it is their actual income that gets hurt when this technology supression gets in effect once again, they will act and find a way to stop this outrageous abuse.

Actually when some politics get to realize that their district budgets had been largely severed by such long standing regressive behavior, legislative action would come out.

Nacho

champmanfan said:

Doubt we'll see any huge improvements in batteries in 10 years either and remember similar stories to this one going back 8 years (back when the story broke of having terabytes of RAM on consumer PCs).

If those comments are correct from Butch+Guest (and probably are because I've heard the same from a friend who's a drilling engineering) about fuel companies buying those patents to limit competition, we'll see a huge improvement in 40-50 years once oil has just about run out. Then what do you know ...they'll have a monopoly again on the energy market and all of a sudden prices are up to what we're used to with crude oil plus tax, vat, etc.

What a selfish bunch we are on planet Earth, this fuel problem affects us all everyday in everyway.

MaxFubar MaxFubar said:

I am totally exhillirated! For the life of me, I cannot figure out why on these smartphones techs are more concerned about the bells and whistles on these expensive gadgets, rather that the power supply, which makes the gadget work. But after reading this article, I find a little solace in my minds worrys about the techs these Tech schools are putting out. These batteries on these phones now are less than poorly adequate. I mean, if it were a car, one would not be going very fat at all.

Zoltan Head said:

I am totally exhillirated! For the life of me, I cannot figure out why on these smartphones techs are more concerned about the bells and whistles on these expensive gadgets, rather that the power supply, which makes the gadget work. But after reading this article, I find a little solace in my minds worrys about the techs these Tech schools are putting out. These batteries on these phones now are less than poorly adequate. I mean, if it were a car, one would not be going very fat at all.

I don't agree, I have been going fat for some years.

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