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Future gadget batteries could last 10 times longer

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Batteries continue to be the bane of mobile devices, but research done at Northwestern University could change that, with longer-lasting batteries that charge in minutes, not hours. The new science shouldn’t increase the size of batteries but instead modifies the chemical reaction that takes place inside lithium-ion power packs, allowing for 10 times the capacity, says PC Mag. Don’t run out to the store looking for these batteries just yet, though: They are not expected to hit the market for three to five years.

According to Northwestern’s Professor Harold Kung, the longer-lasting batteries take advantage of two new processes. First, the number of lithium-ion atoms in the battery’s electrode are boosted by using silicon in place of carbon between sheets of graphene in the battery. It sounds complicated, but the gist is this: Silicon works 24 times more efficiently with lithium ions compared to carbon, which is used in traditional batteries.

Second, the research team scored the graphine sheets with microscopic holes, allowing the lithium ions to travel faster within the battery. These techniques improve both the recharge time and density of lithium ions, which equates to longer-lasting batteries with fast recharge times, perhaps as little as 15 minutes. Kung explains the process as having “[T]he best of both worlds. We have much higher energy density because of the silicon, and the sandwiching reduces the capacity loss caused by the silicon expanding and contracting.”

Battery science hasn’t changed all that much as our addiction to go mobile has risen, so the new research is promising. Part of the problem is that technology cycles for components used in smartphones, tablets and laptops are increasing in speed. Hardware is getting faster and more capable while also shrinking in size. But the extra room gained inside devices is often used for more components and features, not bigger batteries that just make the devices heavier — not a desirable aspect.

15 Responses to “Future gadget batteries could last 10 times longer”

  1. Richard Garrett

    If the increased capacity and decreased charge time is accomplished using the same or advanced chargers it could mean a reduction on electrical demand. There are lots of implications given that (cumulatively) gadgets are gobbling up big chunks of energy.

  2. Adam Lesser

    A breakthrough in battery life could shake up the semiconductor industry in terms of mobile, significantly cutting into ARM’s advantage. If power efficiency on tablets and mobile were to become less of an issue, it gets much easier for Intel to get back in the game.

      • Ken: from the research release out of Northwestern:

        “The researchers combined two chemical engineering approaches to address two major battery limitations — energy capacity and charge rate — in one fell swoop. In addition to better batteries for cellphones and iPods, the technology could pave the way for more efficient, smaller batteries for electric cars.”

        Energy capacity implies these batteries can hold more of a charge, not hold a charge longer. Same reason applies to “smaller batteries for electric cars”; the only way the batteries could be smaller is if they had a higher charging capacity, no?

      • Kevin, I don’t see them claiming 10x the capacity, in fact, they don’t say how much capacity wil be increased. They do claim 10x longer life (“We have found a way to extend a new lithium-ion battery’s charge life by 10 times,” ) 10x faster charging (“This reduced the time it takes the battery to recharge by up to 10 times”) and that it can hold a charge 10x longer, but they don’t say it will store 10x the energy.

        Or are you interpreting “allows the batteries to hold a charge up to 10 times greater than current technology” to mean the capacity is 10x? I took that as how long it can hold the charge.

        Nevertheless, I expect energy capacity will continue to increase, but I’m not convinced there is an order of magnitude increase in energy density just from changing the electrode.

        • Ken, it could definitely be clearer, but yes, I’m taking the “allows the batteries to hold a charge up to 10 times greater than current technology” to mean capacity is 10x. If it could hold the same charge 10x longer, I’m think they would have said “longer” and not “greater” if that makes sense. Again, the “smaller batteries” in electric cars is another clue here. It projects the idea that we could use a battery that’s 10x smaller in an electric vehicle compared to the large batteries used today and have the same amount of available power. That implies a 10x boost in battery capacity on a single charge to me. But again… their wording isn’t great.