Quantum Batteries Could Make Your Gadgets Last Longer

Harnessing the power of uncertainty

Key Takeaways

  • Quantum batteries could one day revolutionize the industry by offering smaller sizes and faster charging. 
  • But one expert says that quantum batteries might be "years or decades" away from powering your cell phone. 
  • Promising research is underway to get more out of Li-Ion battery chemistry.
Two lines of futuristic electric cars moving on a city roadway.

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Your gadgets could one day get a significant power boost thanks to quantum mechanics. 

Researchers have announced a breakthrough in quantum batteries that could eventually revolutionize how gadgets perform. Quantum batteries could be smaller and charge faster than current batteries. The new technology is just one way that the battery industry is poised for a rethink. 

"From a purely functional perspective, we want lighter gadgets with more storage, and new battery tech could afford us both,” Mark Falinski, an environmental sustainability scientist who was not part of the recent study, told Lifewire in an email interview. 

Schrödinger’s Battery?

Researchers at the University of Adelaide in Australia claim they have taken a critical step in making quantum batteries a reality. They say they proved the concept of super absorption, a crucial idea underpinning quantum batteries, according to a recently published study in the journal Science Advances.

"Quantum batteries, which use quantum mechanical principles to enhance their capabilities, require less charging time the bigger they get," James Q. Quach, one of the study's authors, said in a news release. "It is theoretically possible that the charging power of quantum batteries increases faster than the size of the battery, which could allow new ways to speed charging."

To prove the concept of super absorption, the team built wafer-like microcavities of different sizes which contained organic molecules. Each microcavity was charged using a laser.

"The active layer of the microcavity contains organic semiconductor materials that store the energy. Underlying the super absorbing effect of the quantum batteries is the idea that all the molecules act collectively through a property known as quantum superposition," said Quach.

Quantum superposition, a fundamental principle of quantum mechanics, says that much like waves in classical physics, any two quantum states can be added together ("superposed"), and the result will be another valid quantum state. 

But Falinkski warned that quantum batteries might be "years or decades" away from powering your cell phone. 

"That being said, there are a lot of investments being put forward in the quantum computing space, and if those same investments are pushed ahead in quantum batteries, we could make real progress at a faster pace," he added.

"We’re approaching the theoretical limit of what our batteries can store and reuse."

Powering Innovations

The need for new battery technology is great. By 2040, energy consumed by people is expected to have increased by 28 percent from 2015 levels. The majority of power will still come from fossil fuels with the associated costs to the environment. 

"We're approaching the theoretical limit of what our batteries can store and reuse," Falinski said. "Lithium-Ion batteries are getting better and better, but we're getting to a point where the physics and chemistry can't improve them much more."

Promising research is underway to get more out of Li-Ion battery chemistry, including new materials that offer the promise of increasing energy density, power density, cycle life, or decreasing cost are all in various stages of development, Craig Lawrence, a cleantech investor who has a background in battery engineering, told Lifewire in an email interview.  

Solid-state batteries, a lithium-metal battery technology, could offer substantially higher energy density than Lithium-Ion, Lawrence said. 

Someone holding a smartphone that shows the battery percentage on the screen at arm's length.

Onur Binay / Unsplash

"We have nearly infinite computing power in our pocket, but it's as useful as long as the battery can keep it running," he added. "It's why we can't have a smartphone that lasts more than a day on a charge or a drone that can last more than 30-60 minutes."

E-bikes are another area that needs a battery overhaul. In 2021, New York City alone reported more than 80 fires linked to electric bikes and their batteries. ZapBatt has created a lithium-titanate e-bike battery that it claims is fire resistant and can be fully charged from 0% to 100% in 20 minutes instead of the usual 6 hours. 

"For individual consumers, waiting six hours for a battery charge and needing to replace batteries annually is inconvenient and not eco-friendly," Charlie Welch, the CEO of ZapBatt, told Lifewire in an email interview. "With this vast uptick in e-bike interest, the battery tech must keep evolving to encourage more usage and enhance safety."

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