Nerd Knowledge: Tomorrow’s batteries today

There have been many innovations in battery-powered products and a rapid increase in their numbers in recent years. However, there have been no major advances in battery technology in the last few decades until now. We are on the edge of a battery revolution.

Here are the most promising technologies on the horizon:

Graphene batteries

A graphene sheet is harder than a diamond, stronger than steel, more elastic than rubber, a better conductor of electricity than copper, and has superb heat transfer characteristics.

Graphene batteries will charge faster and deliver a higher current, while at the same time running much cooler, than lithium-ion batteries. This makes them ideally suited for electric vehicles, as well as smartphones.

They also have higher energy density, which means that they are lighter and slimmer than Lithium-ion batteries, although Li-ion batteries only store up to 180 watt-hours of energy per kilogram while graphene can store up to 1,000 watt-hours per kilogram.

Though Li-ion batteries have an outstanding safety record, there have been a few isolated incidents involving overheating, overcharging, and puncturing, that resulted in fires. Graphene is far more stable, flexible, and stronger, making it much less prone to these problems.

Li-ion batteries can use graphene to improve cathode conductor performance. These are known as “graphene-metal oxide hybrids” or “graphene-composite” batteries.

A Spanish company, Graphenano, has developed a graphene-polymer battery that can be charged in 5 minutes and give electric vehicles a 500-mile range.

Vertically-aligned carbon nanotube electrode

NAWA Technologies has designed and patented an “Ultra-Fast Carbon Electrode” that utilizes a vertically-aligned carbon nanotube (VACNT) design. It reportedly increases power by a factor of ten, energy storage by three-fold, and allows for 5 times the number of charging cycles. NAWA states that a 621-mile ranger is possible, with charging times reduced to 5 minutes, to achieve an 80 percent charge. The technology could be in production as soon as 2023.

Seawater battery

IBM Research has discovered new battery chemistry that does not use heavy metals like nickel and cobalt. Instead, it relies on material extracted from seawater which could possibly yield greater performance than Li-ion batteries. According to the company, it is “cheaper to manufacture, it can charge faster than lithium-ion and can pack in both higher power and energy densities.” IBM Research is working closely on these with auto manufacturers such as Mercedes-Benz.

Cobalt-free lithium-ion battery

Researchers at the University of Texas have developed a lithium-ion battery with no cobalt for its cathode. Instead, they have used a mixture of 89 percent nickel, with manganese and aluminum comprising the other cathode compounds.

SVOLT, based in Changzhou, China, has announced that it has manufactured cobalt-free batteries designed for the EV market. The company purports the batteries have a higher energy density, resulting in a range of 500 miles, and at the same time, a longer battery lifespan and increased safety features.

Hybrid silicon anode lithium-ion batteries

The University of Eastern Finland has developed a method to produce a hybrid anode, using mesoporous silicon microparticles and carbon nanotubes. These materials improve the performance of the battery. There is an ecological benefit, since the silicon material is produced from barley husk ash.

Lithium-sulphur batteries

Researchers at Monash University in Melbourne Australia have developed a lithium-sulphur battery that outperforms Li-ion and can power a smartphone for 5 days. The battery has been patented and there are interested manufacturers.

Sand battery

This new type of lithium-ion battery uses silicon in the anode to achieve a three-fold increase in performance and battery life. Researchers had previously focused on nano-silicon, which degrades quickly. However, sand can be purified, powdered, then ground with magnesium and salt before being heated, thus removing oxygen, resulting in pure silicon.

A battery tech startup is bringing this process to market and has received substantial investment from automakers like Daimler and BMW.

Gold nanowire batteries

The University of California Irvine has created nanowire batteries using gold. Nanowires are a thousand times thinner than human hair and hold great promise for future batteries. The problem has been that they always break down when recharging. This technique uses gold nanowires in a gel electrolyte to solve the problem. These batteries were recharged over 200,000 times in three months and showed no degradation.

Solid-state lithium-ion

Scientists at Toyota published a paper describing their tests of a solid-state battery that uses sulfide superionic conductors. The result is a battery that can operate as a supercapacitor, allowing it to completely charge or discharge in just seven minutes. It has an operating range of -30 to 100 degrees celsius.

Aluminum-air battery

This battery technology uses oxygen from the air to fill its cathode. This makes it much lighter than liquid-filled lithium-ion batteries and extends the range. A test vehicle employing these batteries went 1,110 miles on a single charge.

Urine powered batteries

The Bill Gates Foundation is funding this research by Bristol Robotic Laboratory. It involves using a Microbial Fuel Cell, made up of micro-organisms that break down the urine and output electricity. It has been demonstrated to power a smartphone.

Sound-powered batteries

Scientists in the UK have constructed a phone that uses ambient sound to charge the battery.

The technology uses a principle called the piezoelectric effect. Nanogenerators were fabricated that harvest ambient noise and convert it into electric current. The “nanorods” even respond to the human voice. In other words the more you talk, the more you charge the battery.

Ryden dual carbon battery

Power Japan Plus has announced this novel battery technology called Ryden dual carbon. 

The batteries use carbon materials that are more sustainable and environmentally friendly than competing alternatives. They will charge twenty times faster than lithium-ion, be more durable, last up to 3,000 charge cycles, and are safer.

These and other innovative battery technologies will provide enhanced performance and a significantly reduced environmental impact.