Tech Innovations Could Eventually Extend Your Gadget’s Battery Life

No more running out of juice

Key Takeaways

  • A wide range of new technologies are being developed to extend battery life.
  • Researchers recently announced they’ve found a way to significantly increase the lifetime of batteries.
  • There’s growing concern about the safety of lithium-ion batteries.
using solar energy to charge up smartphone battery

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Your smartphone battery’s life might one day be measured in days rather than hours. 

Researchers from the Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology have reportedly found a way to significantly increase the lifetime of batteries. It’s one of a growing number of advances in the field of energy storage.

"This type of research is important, and eventually these theoretical and experimental findings should translate to longer battery life, which is important from both an environmental and economic standpoint," Jack Kavanaugh, CEO of energy storage company Nanotech Energy, who was not involved in the Japanese study, said in an email interview. 

We Need Better Batteries

In a recent paper, the researchers say the widely used graphite anodes in a battery need a binder to hold the mineral together, but the poly binder falls short. They are investigating a new type of binder made from a copolymer, making batteries last longer.

Current battery technology leaves a lot to be desired. The most popular type of rechargeable battery in consumer electronics right now is lithium-ion. While they can hold and discharge a great deal of energy compared with other technologies, they have some fundamental limitations.  

"For one, their capacity degrades proportionally with the number of charge/discharge cycles," explained Bob Blake, vice president at smart dog collar developer Fi, in an email interview. "You can typically expect a lithium-ion battery to only retain about 80 percent of its original capacity after 500 charge/discharge cycles."

There’s also growing concern about the safety of lithium-ion batteries. Last year, BMW recalled more than 26,000 plug-in hybrid vehicles at risk of fires. In February, Hyundai began a recall of 76,000 Hyundai Kona EVs in South Korea after more than a dozen reports of fires in its Kona EV battery packs.

Battery Boosts May Be on the Horizon

A wide range of companies and researchers are tinkering with ways to get more life from gadgets.  

At Syracuse University professor Ian Hosein’s lab, he and his material science research team are conducting research on materials that could be used in the next generation of batteries. Lithium, the material commonly used in batteries, can be expensive, difficult to recycle, and prone to overheat. Hosein is testing abundant minerals like calcium, aluminum, and sodium to see how they can be used to engineer new batteries.

"When we work in material science, the materials we make have to meet a lot of different expectations," Hosein said in a news release. "We are thinking about what happens beyond lithium. Other materials can be inherently safer, less expensive and more environmentally benign."

Some companies are trying to rejigger the current standard type of Lithium-ion batteries. The company Enovix, for example, claims to have developed Lithium-ion batteries with energy densities five years ahead of current industry-standard products.

Cameron Dales, general manager and chief commercial officer at ENOVIX, said in an email interview that the company’s current battery products deliver 27%-110% greater energy density than others on the market.

Two other promising technologies in development are organic radicals and sugar batteries. Organic radicals can offer comparable performances to Li-Ion using special organic polymers, while being flexible and more environmentally friendly. Sugar batteries use sugar and active enzymes to produce electricity and can be highly energy-dense. 

This type of research is important, and eventually these theoretical and experimental findings should translate to longer battery life.

"They are at a very early development stage, and even if they ever get to market, it won't be for at least ten years," Javier Nadal, the UK director of product innovation consultancy BlueThink, said in an email interview. 

Nadal predicts these new battery technologies will transform personal technology in the next decade. 

"Products that we already know will get gradually better," Nadal said. "For example, phones and laptops being thinner and lighter while increasing their working time. The new energy storage solution enables new products that can drastically change the user experience."

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