Battery life is arguably the biggest problem faced by our smart life today. Althouth rechargeable lithium-ion batteries and their derived mobile power banks have served us well, stand to current battery researches, we can do better: completely charges a smartphone in mere minutes; lasts longer on that charge than any phone you’ve ever seen; is made from cleaner materials; and costs less than existing devices. And here are four of the most promising options.
The existing lithium-ion battery technology has serious limitations, such as not being as energy-dense, long time to charge, getting hot and degredation. Now, a company called “Power Japan Plus” thinks it has a solution, in the form of a “dual-carbon” battery.
This battery technology replaces the anode and the cathode of the battery with plain carbon, which is fairly inert. The result is a battery which doesn’t store dramatically more energy than lithium-ion technology, but can charge twenty times faster than lithium-ion batteries, don’t produce heat, and upgrade for about three thousand cycles.
The company plans to begin producing an initial run of batteries this year, for use primarily in medical equipment.
Metal-air is a nonspecific category of batteries whose metal electrodes react with air instead of liquid. These electrodes may be built from a number of different metals, each of which interacts with oxygen in the air to produce an electrical current, the most promising ones are lithium and sodium.
IBM is seeing lithium-air as an eventual holy grail of battery technology, as it is expected to improve energy density tenfold, dramatically increasing the amount of energy these batteries can generate and store, for Boeing’s Dreamliner airplane.
An alternative to lithium-air is sodium-air. It has a lower theoretical energy capacity but is more stable and easier to build—and still more efficient than today’s lithium-ion batteries. Researchers have also made strides with aluminum- and zinc-air devices, the latter of which is already on the market and can be found in hearing aids.
Liquid Metal Battery
Currently, grids aren’t capable of storing electricity, so power utilities have to play a sort of guessing game when it comes to supply and demand, which makes for a highly inefficient system. But liquid metal might help make power grids more efficient.
Imagine a grid-scale power cell capable of sequestering energy for on-demand delivery by utilities, that is the so-called “smart grid”. Here’s how it works: Two liquid-metal electrodes—one low-density negative and one high-density positive—are separated by a molten-salt electrolyte. The difference in composition between the two liquid metals gives rise to a voltage.
MIT Professor Donald Sadoway, who fathered the concept, told the BBC that such a battery would require 50-100 fewer individual cells than a standard battery cell array, making it commercially practical.
Unlike batteries, which produce current through an electrochemical reaction, capacitors merely store energy. The challenge so far has been to develop a capacitor that is compact, inexpensive, and more energy-dense than a battery—hence, the term “supercapacitor.” That this discovery may have “changed the world” is pretty exciting.
Recent research has pointed to graphene, a sheet of carbon that is just one atom thick. It greatly increases the energy density of capacitors. A recent “accidental” discovery by a student in the Kaner Lab at UCLA showed how graphene can be cheaply manufactured using existing consumer technology. The discovery prompted the creation of a short documentary that went viral and became a finalist in GE’s Focus Forward competition.