Over the past few years we’ve seen incredible advances in technology — HD TV and streaming video services, ultra-thin touchscreen smartphones, powerful 2 in 1 PCs, self-driving cars and friendly AI assistants.
But one thing that hasn’t significantly improved is battery life. The Lithium-Ion technology used in today’s portable PCs, drones and electric cars dates back to 1985. And while improvements in processor efficiency have given us greater longevity, we’re still waiting for a truly next-gen power cell.
Perhaps that wait will soon be over. A team of engineers at the University of Texas at Austin has reportedly developed “the first all-solid-state battery cells that could lead to safer, faster-charging, longer-lasting rechargeable batteries for handheld mobile devices, electric cars and stationary energy storage.”
The engineers include an old hand — 94-year-old John Goodenough, a Cockrell School of Engineering professor at The University of Texas at Austin and co-inventor of the Lithium-Ion battery. Without his pioneering work in the early 1980s (as recognised by the US National Academy of Engineering in 2014), we might not have the all-day battery life we enjoy today.
Three times as much energy
So imagine a battery that lasts three times as long. Goodenough’s latest breakthrough, made with the help of Maria Helena Braga, is a battery formulation that has “at least three times as much energy density as today’s lithium-ion batteries.”
Key to the new battery cell is the use of glass electrolytes instead of liquid electrolytes. These don’t just offer an increase in energy density and a longer cycle life, but allow “for the substitution of low-cost sodium for lithium. Sodium is extracted from seawater that is widely available,” Braga explained.
Longer-lasting batteries are desperately needed. While alternatives have been teased (such as Hydrogen and Lithium-sulfur), Lithium-Ion and Lithium Polymer remain the go-to technologies for use in our laptops, smartphones and, increasingly, electric cars.
“Cost, safety, energy density, rates of charge and discharge and cycle life are critical for battery-driven cars to be more widely adopted,” said Goodenough. “We believe our discovery solves many of the problems that are inherent in today’s batteries.”
Goodenough and Braga’s technology is detailed in a paper published here.