While smartphones, smart homes and even smart wearables are growing ever more advanced, they're still limited by power. The battery hasn't advanced in decades. But we're on the verge of a power revolution.
Big technology and car companies are all too aware of the limitations of lithium-ion batteries. While chips and operating systems are becoming more efficient to save power we're still only looking at a day or two of use on a smartphone before having to recharge.
While it may be some time before we get a week's life out of our phones, development is progressing well. We've collected all the best battery discoveries that could be with us soon, from over the air charging to super-fast 30-second re-charging. Hopefully, you'll be seeing this tech in your gadgets soon.
Lithium-sulphur batteries could outperform Li-Ion, have lower environmental impact
Monash University researchers have developed a lithium-sulphur battery that can power a smartphone for 5 days, outperforming lithium-ion. The researchers have fabricated this battery, have patents and the interest of manufacturers. The group has funding for further research in 2020, saying that continued research into cars and grid use will continue.
The new battery technology is said to have a lower environmental impact than lithium-ion and lower manufacturing costs, while offering the potential to power a vehicle for 1000km (620 miles), or a smartphone for 5 days.
IBM's battery is sourced from sea water and out-performs lithium-ion
IBM Research is reporting that it has discovered a new battery chemistry that is free from heavy metals like nickel and cobalt and could potentially out-perform lithium-ion. IBM Research says that this chemistry has never been used in combination in a battery before and that the materials can be extracted from seawater.
The performance of the battery is promising, with IBM Research saying that it can out-perform lithium-ion in a number of different areas - it's cheaper to manufacture, it can charge faster than lithium-ion and can pack in both higher power and energy densities. All this is available in a battery with low flammability of the electrolytes.
IBM Research points out that these advantages will make its new battery technology suitable for electric vehicles, and it is working with Mercedes-Benz amongst others to develop this technology into a viable commercial battery.
Panasonic battery management system
While lithium-ion batteries are everywhere and growing in use cases, the management of those batteries, including determining when those batteries have reached the end of their life is difficult. Panasonic, working with Professor Masahiro Fukui of Ritsumeikan University, has come up with a new battery management technology that will make it a lot easier monitor batteries and determine the residual value of lithium-ion in them.
Panasonic says that its new technology can be easily applied with a change to the battery management system, which will make it easier to monitor and evaluate batteries with multiple stacked cells, the sort of thing you might find in an electric car. Panasonic that this system will help the drive towards sustainability by being able to better manage reuse and recycling of lithium-ion batteries.
Asymmetric temperature modulation
Research has demonstrated a charging method that takes us a step closer to extreme fast charging - XFC - which aims to deliver 200 miles of electric car range in about 10 minutes with 400kW charging. One of the issues with charging is Li plating in batteries, so the asymmetric temperature modulation method charges at a higher temperature to reduce plating, but limits that to 10 minutes cycles, avoiding solid-electrolyte-interphase growth, which can reduce battery life. The method is reported to reduce battery degradation while allowing XFC charging.
Sand battery gives three times more battery life
This alternative type of lithium-ion battery uses silicon to achieve three times better performance than current graphite li-ion batteries. The battery is still lithium-ion like the one found in your smartphone, but it uses silicon instead of graphite in the anodes.
Scientists at the University of California Riverside have been focused on nano silicon for a while, but it's been degrading too quickly and is tough to produce in large quantities. By using sand it can be purified, powdered then ground with salt and magnesium before being heated to remove oxygen resulting in pure silicon. This is porous and three-dimensional which helps in performance and, potentially, the life-span of the batteries. We originally picked up on this research in 2014 and now it's coming to fruition.
Silanano is a battery tech startup that's bringing this technique to market and has seen big investment from companies like Daimler and BMW. The company say that its solution can be dropped into existing lithium-ion battery manufacturing, so it's set for scalable deployment, promising 20 per cent battery performance boost now, or 40 per cent in the near future.
Capturing energy from Wi-Fi
While wireless inductive charging is common, being able to capture energy from Wi-Fi or other electromagnetic waves remains a challenge. A team of researchers, however, has developed a rectenna (radio wave harvesting antenna) that is only several atoms think, making it incredibly flexible.
The idea is that devices can incorporate this molybdenum disulphide-based rectenna so that AC power can be harvested from Wi-Fi in the air and converted to DC, either to recharge a battery or power a device directly. That could see powered medical pills without the need for an internal battery (safer for the patient), or mobile devices that don't need to be connected to a power supply to recharge.
Energy harvested from the device owner
You could be the source of power for your next device, if research into TENGs comes to fruition. A TENG - or triboelectric nanogenerator - is a power harvesting technology which captures the electric current generated through contact of two materials.
A research team at Surrey's Advanced Technology Institute and the University of Surrey have given an insight into how this technology might be put into place to power things like wearable devices. While we're some way from seeing it in action, the research should give designers the tools they need to effectively understand and optimise future TENG implementation.
Gold nanowire batteries
Great minds over at the University of California Irvine have cracked nanowire batteries that can withstand plenty of recharging. The result could be future batteries that don't die.
Nanowires, a thousand times thinner than a human hair, pose a great possibility for future batteries. But they've always broken down when recharging. This discovery uses gold nanowires in a gel electrolyte to avoid that. In fact, these batteries were tested recharging over 200,000 times in three months and showed no degradation at all.
Solid state lithium-ion
Solid state batteries traditionally offer stability but at the cost of electrolyte transmissions. A paper published by Toyota scientists writes about their tests of a solid state battery which uses sulfide superionic conductors. All this means a superior battery.
The result is a battery that can operate at super capacitor levels to completely charge or discharge in just seven minutes - making it ideal for cars. Since it's solid state that also means it's far more stable and safer than current batteries. The solid-state unit should also be able to work in as low as minus 30 degrees Celsius and up to one hundred.
The electrolyte materials still pose challenges so don't expect to see these in cars soon, but it's a step in the right direction towards safer, faster-charging batteries.
Grabat graphene batteries
Graphene batteries have the potential to be one of the most superior available. Grabat has developed graphene batteries that could offer electric cars a driving range of up to 500 miles on a charge.
Graphenano, the company behind the development, says the batteries can be charged to full in just a few minutes and can charge and discharge 33 times faster than lithium ion. Discharge is also crucial for things like cars that want vast amounts of power in order to pull away quickly.
There's no word on if Grabat batteries are currently being used in any products, but the company has batteries available for cars, drones, bikes and even the home.
Laser-made micro supercapacitors
Scientists at Rice University have made a breakthrough in micro-supercapacitors. Currently, they are expensive to make but using lasers that could soon change.
By using lasers to burn electrode patterns into sheets of plastic manufacturing costs and effort drop massively. The result is a battery that can charge 50 times faster than current batteries and discharge even slower than current supercapacitors. They're even tough, able to work after being bent over 10,000 times in testing.
Prieto believes the future of batteries is 3D. The company has managed to crack this with its battery that uses a copper foam substrate.
This means these batteries will not only be safer, thanks to no flammable electrolyte, but they will also offer longer life, faster charging, five times higher density, be cheaper to make and be smaller than current offerings.
Prieto aims to place its batteries into small items first, like wearables. But it says the batteries can be upscaled so we could see them in phones and maybe even cars in the future.
Foldable battery is paper-like but tough
The Jenax J.Flex battery has been developed to make bendable gadgets possible. The paper-like battery can fold and is waterproof meaning it can be integrated into clothing and wearables.
The battery has already been created and has even been safety tested, including being folded over 200,000 times without losing performance.
uBeam over the air charging
uBeam uses ultrasound to transmit electricity. Power is turned into sound waves, inaudible to humans and animals, which are transmitted and then converted back to power upon reaching the device.
The uBeam concept was stumbled upon by 25-year-old astrobiology graduate Meredith Perry. She started the company that will make it possible to charge gadgets over the air using a 5mm thick plate. These transmitters can be attached to walls, or made into decorative art, to beam power to smartphones and laptops. The gadgets just need a thin receiver in order to receive the charge.
StoreDot charges mobiles in 30 seconds
StoreDot, a start-up born from the nanotechnology department at Tel Aviv University, has developed the StoreDot charger. It works with current smartphones and uses biological semiconductors made from naturally occurring organic compounds known as peptides – short chains of amino acids - which are the building blocks of proteins.
The result is a charger that can recharge smartphones in 60 seconds. The battery comprises "non-flammable organic compounds encased in a multi-layer safety-protection structure that prevents over-voltage and heating", so there should be no issues with it exploding.
The company has also revealed plans to build a battery for electric vehicles that charges in five minutes and offers a range of 300 miles.
There's no word on when StoreDot batteries will be available on a global scale - we were expecting them to arrive in 2017 - but when they do we expect them to become incredibly popular.
Transparent solar charger
Alcatel has demoed a mobile phone with a transparent solar panel over the screen that would let users charge their phone by simply placing it in the sun.
Although it's not likely to be commercially available for some time, the company hopes that it will go some way to solving the daily issues of never having enough battery power. The phone will work with direct sunlight as well as standard lights, in the same way regular solar panels.
Aluminium-air battery gives 1,100 mile drive on a charge
A car has managed to drive 1,100 miles on a single battery charge. The secret to this super range is a type of battery technology called aluminium-air that uses oxygen from the air to fill its cathode. This makes it far lighter than liquid filled lithium-ion batteries to give car a far greater range.
Urine powered batteries
The Bill Gates Foundation is funding further research by Bristol Robotic Laboratory who discovered batteries that can be powered by urine. It’s efficient enough to charge a smartphone which the scientists have already shown off. But how does it work?
Using a Microbial Fuel Cell, micro-organisms take the urine, break it down and output electricity.
Researchers in the UK have built a phone that is able to charge using ambient sound in the atmosphere around it.
The smartphone was built using a principle called the piezoelectric effect. Nanogenerators were created that harvest ambient noise and convert it into electric current.
The nanorods even respond to the human voice, meaning chatty mobile users could actually power their own phone while they talk.
Twenty times faster charge, Ryden dual carbon battery
Power Japan Plus has already announced this new battery technology called Ryden dual carbon. Not only will it last longer and charge faster than lithium but it can be made using the same factories where lithium batteries are built.
The batteries use carbon materials which mean they are more sustainable and environmentally friendly than current alternatives. It also means the batteries will charge twenty times faster than lithium ion. They will also be more durable, with the ability to last up to 3,000 charge cycles, plus they are safer with lower chance of fire or explosion.
Scientists in Japan are working on new types of batteries that don't need lithium like your smartphone battery. These new batteries will use sodium, one of the most common materials on the planet rather than rare lithium – and they'll be up to seven times more efficient than conventional batteries.
Research into sodium-ion batteries has been going on since the eighties in an attempt to find a cheaper alternative to lithium. By using salt, the sixth most common element on the planet, batteries can be made much cheaper. Commercialising the batteries is expected to begin for smartphones, cars and more in the next five to 10 years.
Upp hydrogen fuel cell charger
The Upp hydrogen fuel cell portable charger is available now. It uses hydrogen to power your phone keeping you off the gird and remaining environmentally friendly.
One hydrogen cell will provide five full charges of a mobile phone (25Wh capacity per cell). And the only by-product produced is water vapour. A USB type A socket means it will charge most USB devices with a 5V, 5W, 1000mA output.
Batteries with built-in fire extinguisher
It's not uncommon for lithium-ion batteries to overheat, catch on fire and possibly even explode. The battery in the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 is a prime example. Researchers at Stanford university have come up with lithium-ion batteries with built-in fire extinguishers.
The battery has a component called triphenyl phosphate, which is commonly used as a flame retardant in electronics, added to the plastic fibres to help keep the positive and negative electrodes apart. If the battery's temperature rises above 150 degrees C, the plastic fibres melt and the triphenyl phosphate chemical is released. Research shows this new method can stop batteries from catching fire in 0.4 seconds.
Batteries that are safe from explosion
Lithium-ion batteries have a rather volatile liquid electrolyte porous material layer sandwiched between the anode and cathode layers. Mike Zimmerman, a researcher at Tufts University in Massachusetts, has developed a battery that has double the capacity of lithium-ion ones, but without the inherent dangers.
Zimmerman's battery is incredibly thin, being slightly thicker than two credit cards, and swaps out the electrolyte liquid with a plastic film that has similar properties. It can withstand being pierced, shredded, and can be exposed to heat as it's not flammable. There's still a lot of research to be done before the technology could make it to market, but it's good to know safer options are out there.
Liquid Flow batteries
Harvard scientists have developed a battery that stores its energy in organic molecules dissolved in neutral pH water. The researchers say this new method will let the Flow battery last an exceptionally long time compared to the current lithium-ion batteries.
It's unlikely we'll see the technology in smartphones and the like, as the liquid solution associated with Flow batteries is stored in large tanks, the larger the better. It's thought they could be an ideal way to store energy created by renewable energy solutions such as wind and solar.
Indeed, research from Stanford University has used liquid metal in a flow battery with potentially great results, claiming double the voltage of conventional flow batteries. The team has suggested this might be a great way to store intermittent energy sources, like wind or solar, for rapid release to the grid on demand.
IBM and ETH Zurich and have developed a much smaller liquid flow battery that could potentially be used in mobile devices. This new battery claims to be able to not only supply power to components, but cool them at the same time. The two companies have discovered two liquids that are up to the task, and will be used in a system that can produce 1.4 Watts of power per square cm, with 1 Watt of power reserved for powering the battery.
Zap&Go Carbon-ion battery
Oxford-based company ZapGo has developed and produced the first carbon-ion battery that's ready for consumer use now. A carbon-ion battery combines the superfast charging capabilities of a supercapacitor, with the performance of a Lithium-ion battery, all while being completely recyclable.
The company has a powerbank charger that be fully charged in five minutes, and will then charge a smartphone up to full in two hours.
Scientists at Sydney University believe they've come up with a way of manufacturing zinc-air batteries for much cheaper than current methods. Zinc-air batteries can be considered superior to lithium-ion, because they don't catch fire. The only problem is they rely on expensive components to work.
Sydney Uni has managed to create a zinc-air battery without the need for the expensive components, but rather some cheaper alternatives. Safer, cheaper batteries could be on their way!
Researchers at the University of Surrey are developing a way of you being able to use your clothing as a source of power. The battery is called a Triboelectric Nanogenerators (TENGs), which converts movement into stored energy. The stored electricity can then be used to power mobile phones or devices such as Fitbit fitness trackers.
The technology could be applied to more than just clothing too, it could be integrated into the pavement, so when people constantly walk over it, it can store electricity which can then be used to power streelamps, or in a car's tyre so it can power a car.
Engineers at the University of California in San Diego have developed a stretchable biofuel cell that can generate electricity from sweat. The energy generated is said to be enough to power LEDs and Bluetooth radios, meaning it could one day power wearable devices like smartwatches and fitness trackers.
Samsung's graphene battery
Samsung has managed to develop "graphene balls" that are capable of boosting the capacity of its current lithium-ion batteries by 45 per cent, and and recharging five times faster than current batteries. To put that into context, Samsung says its new graphene-based battery can be recharged fully in 12 minutes, compared to roughly an hour for the current unit.
Samsung also says it has uses beyond smartphones, saying it could be used for electric vehicles as it can withstand temperatures up to 60 degrees Celsius.
Safer, faster charging of current Lithium-ion batteries
Scientists at WMG at the University of Warwick have developed a new technology that allows current Lithium-ion batteries to be charged up to five times faster that current recommended limits. The technology constantly measures a battery's temperature far more precisely than current methods.
Scientists have found that current batteries can in fact be pushed beyond their recommended limits without affecting performance or overheating. Maybe we don't need any of the other new batteries mentioned at all!