Battery of the future

Tired of your phone battery running out of juice? More specifically, are you tired of the time it takes to charge your battery back to full power? Thanks to a new technological development, waiting hours for batteries to charge could become a thing of the past.

No, this isn’t an advert for a new piece of flimsy tat, but the details of a new battery developed recently by a team headed by Associate Professor Chen Xiaodong at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore. Even though this is a new technique, the team managed to recharge batteries by up to 70% in just two minutes.

What, exactly, is the problem with the batteries we use at the moment? Well, apart from sounding like they should be powering the Starship Enterprise, most electronic devices currently use rechargeable Lithium Ion Batteries (LIBs). As battery fans reading this will know, LIBs have a graphite anode which makes them the best batteries currently available. They allow for about 500 charges over the course of two to three years and then you have to buy another one while cursing the heavens for not providing you with a better battery. Even batteries that claim to last longer don’t actually perform much better than an average LIB.

How do these miracle batteries made by Xiaodong and his team actually work? As seems to be the answer with most modern developments: nanotechnology.

To replace the graphite in LIBs, a gel consisting of titanium dioxide nanotubes is used as the anode. These nanotubes essentially behave as millions of tiny wires that can transfer electricity at a significantly higher rate than LIBs, making extremely fast charging completely possible. Titanium dioxide is found in abundance in soil. It’s safe to use and very cheap, which means it’s incredibly likely that these newer versions LIBs will not just perform better, but also cost less. They have the potential to bring the price of phones, laptops, tablets, etc. down while drastically improving their battery performance.

NTA associate professor Chen Xiaodong with research fellow Tang Yuxin and PHD student Deng Jiyang. © Nanyang Technological University (NTU).
NTA associate professor Chen Xiaodong with research fellow Tang Yuxin and PHD student Deng Jiyang. © Nanyang Technological University

However, the consequences of the invention of these batteries stretch far beyond handheld electronic gadgets. One major criticism of electronic cars is that the batteries don’t last very long and when they run out, they take up to 12 hours to charge. These new batteries won’t improve the range of electric cars, but imagine an electric car being able to fully charge in the same amount of time it takes to fill up a petrol-fuelled car. Suddenly, electric cars would be a lot more appealing and the industry could be invigorated by greater numbers of customers, all thanks to a simple battery modification.

Another implication of using batteries with longer life cycles is a reduction in the amount of toxic waste produced by throwing away LIBs. To demonstrate, assuming a life cycle of three years for LIBs, you would have used seven batteries over a 20 year period. With these new batteries, you’d only need one. Professor Rachid Yazami has called these new batteries ‘the next big leap in battery technology’ – he knows a thing or two about batteries, as he co-invented LIBs around the beginning of the 1980s.

Unfortunately, these new batteries aren’t on the production line yet and current LIB manufacturers will probably need some convincing to modify their production process. The team at NTU still has a little way to go until mass production but the good news is you may be able to buy these batteries from as early as 2016.


Evan Canwell

Feature Image: SRPE

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