SCIENTISTS HAVE FOUND a long sought-after method for improving the capacity of batteries that could result in portable devices lasting more than twice as long.
A report in the scientific journal Nature Nanotechnology (paywalled) explains that researchers at Stanford University have hit upon a way to build batteries of pure lithium, a goal that has eluded the industry for decades.
In the present generation of lithium batteries, only the electrolyte of the battery contains power efficient lithium ions. Because of the way lithium expands, the anode and cathode will expand and disintegrate dramatically, with associated fire risks of the type highlighted last week when a teenage girl's bed was scorched by a faulty phone battery.
In this new technique researchers have solved the problem by adding a protective layer of carbon domes over the lithium anode, which despite being only 20nm thick is enough to preserve the integrity of the battery.
At present the lifespan of the batteries has not been perfected to commercial standards, but still represents a major leap forward in the quest for improved battery capacity.
Yi Cui, a professor of materials science and engineering who is leading the research said, "Of all the materials that one might use in an anode, lithium has the greatest potential. Some call it the Holy Grail."
As well as giving us longer to procrastinate on Facebook, the applications for extended life batteries go much further, and could even lead to viable electric cars with comparable ranges between charges to petrol driven vehicles.
Steven Chu, a former Nobel laureate who is working with Cui said, "You might be able to have [a] cell phone with double or triple the battery life or an electric car with a range of 300 miles that cost only $25,000 - competitive with an internal combustion engine getting 40mpg."
With more gadgets going everywhere with us, keeping them charged is becoming an increasing challenge. While initiatives to improve power consumption such as that being undertaken by Google with Android L will go some way to solving the problem, ultimately the only solution will be to find a more efficient energy cell. µ