The future of batteries

It’s no secret battery life is one of the limiting factors in smartphones and other hand-held devices. The current standard, lithium-ion, batteries have been in use for 25 years now and their lifespan is limited. They can last up to 1200 charge cycles, but eventually they die just like all others. Replacements are often not only pricey, but also a hassle to install. There is a reason why they’re so popular, but is something better coming?

Almost all devices, mainly portable, use these li-ion batteries. They have their advantages such as; high energy density, don’t require priming, relatively low self-discharge, wide array of uses. This also means they have their downsides such as their required circuit protection, aging (even when not in use), required cool storage climate, and they’re fairly pricey to manufacture.

Scientists are taking a step in the right direction focusing their research efforts on high-capacity silicon nanowire with sulfur and oxygen cathodes. Sure it sounds far-fetched, and that’s because it is. A more viable option is to use pure lithium metal, but of course this is VERY dangerous and isn’t a likely option. As Guangyuan Zheng of Stanford School of Material Science and Engineering says, “Lithium has major challenges that have made its use in anodes difficult. Many engineers had given up the search, but we found a way to protect the lithium from the problems that have plagued it for so long.”

Zheng is one of three Stanford engineers led by Professor Yi Cui who have claimed to overcome three major problems posed by lithium. Dendrite buildup that causes short circuits, chemical reactions that reduce battery life, and overheating leading to explosions. Their solution? A honeycomb layer of interconnected carbon domes on top of the lithium anodes that are theorized to improve battery life by about four times.

They call this design a nanosphere, it is only 20 nanometers thick (for comparison, a DNA strand is 2.5 nanometers thick and your average bacteria is 2.5 micrometers), but it is chemically stable and mechanically strong enough to block out chemical reactions and withstand expansion during charging. The end result of all this work and nanotechnology is a battery smaller and more powerful than anything we’ve ever seen.