Future gadget batteries could last 10 times longer

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.