Saturday, November 19th 2011

R&D: A Battery That Lasts A Whole Week And Charges In Just 15 Minutes

Imagine an amazing cellphone battery that lasts a whole week on one charge and takes a mere 15 minutes to recharge from flat. Sounds like science fiction or a dodgy claim, right? Well, incredibly, it isn't, but we will have to wait three to five years for such a wonder. Current high-end smartphones usually have to be recharged once a day, because battery technology really hasn't advanced enough to keep up with their increasing power demands. The same is also true of course, of anything else that uses batteries, such as laptops and electric cars. In the latter case, the batteries cost thousands, go flat pretty quickly, take an age to recharge and don't have that great a working lifetime. No wonder electric cars are still shunned by people that want real performance and practicality from their cars.

But all these frustrating limitations are set to end, if research with the catchy name of "In-Plane Vacancy-Enabled High-Power Si–Graphene Composite Electrode for Lithium-Ion Batteries" published in the November 2011 issue of Advanced Energy Materials is anything to go by. The lead author of this article (paywall) is Harold H Kung, who is professor of chemical and biological engineering in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science. He also is a Dorothy Ann and Clarence L. Ver Steeg Distinguished Research Fellow. So, a pretty bright bod, then. He has written in the article:
We have found a way to extend a new lithium-ion battery’s charge life by 10 times. Even after 150 charges, which would be one year or more of operation, the battery is still five times more effective than lithium-ion batteries on the market today.
That's amazing. Really amazing and the kind of breakthrough the world has been waiting impatiently for, for years. So, how has this been achieved? There are two main problems that have been overcome – and overcome in one fell swoop.

Explained in simple terms that one can understand over a rushed breakfast after having spilled the coffee, is that when charging a lithium-ion battery, the speed at which the anode can absorb lithium ions is very low, therefore making charging times lengthy. Also, the capacity of the battery to hold charge is limited by the charge density, or how many lithium ions can be packed into the anode or cathode. This affects how long the battery lasts before it goes distressingly flat and that powerful high end smartphone turns into a beautifully crafted paperweight. Or you plug the charger in.

These limitations come about due to the multiple single atom thick graphene sheets that are used to make the anode in the batteries, because of the length of time the ions take to cross them and be snuggled between these sheets, all nice and comfy, is quite long. These limitations can be overcome by using silicon instead of graphene - yes, the same abundant material used to make computer chips, eliminating one source of shortage of raw material. Silicon has the wonderful ability to allow fast charging by allowing lithium ions a free pass to their resting place within the anode and also has a large capacity to store them, solving both problems in one. But, as always, there's a gotcha and things aren't so simple. The silicon expands and contracts significantly during the charging process, which causes it to fragment and lose its charge holding capacity, making it useless.

The problem was solved by the research team, by blending the use of graphene and silicon. They made a sandwich of two graphene sheets, with clusters of silicon used as the yummy filler. This allows for a much greater number of lithium atoms in the electrode, while the graphene allows the silicon to expand and contract as it requires, as Kung explained:
Now we almost have the best of both worlds. We have much higher energy density because of the silicon, and the sandwiching reduces the capacity loss caused by the silicon expanding and contracting. Even if the silicon clusters break up, the silicon won’t be lost.
This however, isn't the whole story. The research team were able to speed up recharge by a massive ten times, by creating what they call "in-plane defects" in the graphene, which gives the lithium ions a shortcut into the anode and be stored there by reaction with the silicon. These 'defects' are actually tiny holes of around 10 to 20 nm in size, which are dotted around the graphene sheet.

Finally, it doesn't matter how fancy or high performance the battery is, if it has the tendency to burn or explode. The researchers are now looking into developing an electrolyte which will allow it to automatically shut off at high temperatures, while having the benefit of being reversible. This safety system could prove vital in electric cars in cases of short circuits or damage due to road accidents.

Just think, you could be on the train where there's no mains power and be playing the latest Call of Duty blockbuster on battery power on your high-powered laptop for three or four hours. At the end of the journey, the batteries would still have a lot of charge left in them and a recharge of say, 30-60 minutes would be enough to fully refresh them. Yup, amazing. The other side effect of course, is that all those small batteries such as the AA size, D size etc may suddenly cost a whole lot more, as sales reduce significantly, but this is a relatively small price to pay for such incredible performance improvements.

For a fuller explanation of how these batteries work - requiring extended concentration and strong coffee - see the source article at Northwestern University. It's a very good read.
Add your own comment

29 Comments on R&D: A Battery That Lasts A Whole Week And Charges In Just 15 Minutes

#1

Well, in the past decade, some AA batteries have been getting fully charged under 15-30 mins. So I wouldn't see it as "science fiction". Just done on a smaller scale, which is possible using lower nanometers.
Posted on Edit | Reply
#2
D4S4
now i can finally get my 50kg electrical mx bike.
Posted on Reply
#3
LAN_deRf_HA
Ehhhhh. 5-10x lithium density battery breakthroughs happen what, at least every 3 months, are always 4-5 years away. Gets real old... So far out of the dozen techs like this I only know of one that's become a full sized prototype, still doesn't mean it's going to be produced.
Posted on Reply
#4
v12dock
My cellphone takes 30mins to charge and last 5 days
Posted on Reply
#5
jmcslob
They need to hurry up and get these batteries out....I'm not sure how many of you have experienced the POWER drain of 4G yet but it's really disgusting...I have the HTC EVO and I get about 3.5 hours of continuous use under wifi, 2 under 3G and about 40 minutes under 4G....

But Then again do you really need more than 5 minutes of Pron...LuLzzz...
Posted on Reply
#6
NC37
by: v12dock
My cellphone takes 30mins to charge and last 5 days
Yeah I've had the same. So I guess the point to all this is the increase in charge count.
Posted on Reply
#7
laszlo
by: v12dock
My cellphone takes 30mins to charge and last 5 days
by: NC37
Yeah I've had the same. So I guess the point to all this is the increase in charge count.
do you both use your phone? :laugh:

when i have a 20 min conversation 5% from my bat. is gone-display off meantime- even a charged phone without any usage eat the battery in 1 week
Posted on Reply
#8
RejZoR
We've seen countless news about bettter batteries, yet our smartphones still go flat after 3 days max and even the most power efficient netbooks last 3-4 hours under moderate load. Not exactly stellar performance...
Posted on Reply
#9
stefanels
I have a Nokia 6120C and with a speedcharger takes up to 20-25minutes to fully charge and last more than a week the battery...
Posted on Reply
#10
cool_recep
Stop making those stupid news , especially into the front page. I am really pissed of scientists yelling at us "we made that perfect battery, this one charges in 2 minutes, toshiba has the biggest battery, honda has the most juice ete etc etc etc..."

I still have to charge my cell every night. WTF is the purpose if I can't use it? Agrrrrhhhhh

//Yeah, I know "it takes time to lower the production costs" and "you have to be patient" bullsh1t.
Posted on Reply
#11
dicobalt
I got up to the point where it said "we will have to wait three to five years for such a wonder" and then I quit reading. I can't even count the number of times incredible amazing battery breakthroughs have only been a few years away. They never seem to actually happen because the technologies aren't possible to implement in a mass manufacturing scenario.
Posted on Reply
#12
Jarman
A bomb in ur hands basically
Posted on Reply
#13
laszlo
by: cool_recep
Stop making those stupid news , especially into the front page.
if u don't like don't read especially don't make comments like this at least;from my point of view is a good news and as i saw for others also so keep your personal feelings inside u no need to trash/insult qubit for bringing other news than pc hardware;btw this is related to that area also as laptop batteries fall in so think before posting at least...:nutkick:
Posted on Reply
#14
de.das.dude
Pro Indian Modder
My li-ion battery on the nokia 3110c is still as good as new. its been 3 years.
just remember to charge only when its empty and that you stop charging as soon as its done.
Posted on Reply
#15
Jarman
charge memory was more of a ni-cad thing.
Posted on Reply
#16
qubit
Overclocked quantum bit
by: cool_recep
Stop making those stupid news , especially into the front page.
It's "stupid" in your humble opinion. And what makes you so right? :rolleyes:

Don't bother answering.
Posted on Reply
#17
de.das.dude
Pro Indian Modder
by: qubit
It's "stupid" in your humble opinion. And what makes you so right? :rolleyes:

Don't bother answering.
i already reported that post :p
Posted on Reply
#18
stinger608
Dedicated TPU Cruncher & Folder
by: qubit
It's "stupid" in your humble opinion. And what makes you so right? :rolleyes:

Don't bother answering.
Totally agree:rockout::rockout::rockout:

This could make a huge difference for laptop owners. Business people that travel with a laptop for example. They may be able to charge his or her laptop before leaving and not worry about it again until after they make it back home.
Posted on Reply
#19
robal
While this is all exciting, etc, etc...

I've been hearing similar stories for a decade now...
R&D looks nice. Commercial product is expected in "few years". And then... nothing... Slightly improved energy density Li-ION. That's it.

Where are super capacitors, small fuel cells, and whatnot (forgot all those technologis that were supposed to replace Li-ION) ?

The situation is similar to all those wonderful memory technologies replacing Flash... Not happening... yet..
Posted on Reply
#20
RejZoR
by: de.das.dude
My li-ion battery on the nokia 3110c is still as good as new. its been 3 years.
just remember to charge only when its empty and that you stop charging as soon as its done.
Actually it's not recommended to fully discharge li-ion or li-poly battteries. Also all devices these days have logic unit that shuts off charging when it's fully charged (so you can't overcharge it). Also getting a week out of Nokia 3110c is nothing spectacular. It's a feature phone. I had it so i know what kind of phone it is. Getting 10 days out of Android phone, well that is spectacular. I've managed to squeeze out 10 days out of HTC Wildfire with Cyanogen 7. Though i wasn't making a lot of calls at all, it was on 2G and i checked for app updatexs using WiFi almost daily. Updated them almost every 2 days. But still, today's batteries aren't anything special.

The main problem is that they announce this tech today. They'll release it after 5 years when other hardware will get so power hungry it won't perform any better than today's batteries.
Posted on Reply
#21
3volvedcombat
by: laszlo
do you both use your phone? :laugh:

when i have a 20 min conversation 5% from my bat. is gone-display off meantime- even a charged phone without any usage eat the battery in 1 week
No its more like,

Do any of you guys use a fuckin droid.

Pain the ass to worry about batter charge!
Posted on Reply
#22
Kreij
Senior Monkey Moderator
Thanks for the article Q. Interesting stuff.
I just have a dumbphone that I don't use much, can charge from my USB port and it lasts about a week, but new battery tech for all the "wired" junkies is always welcome news ... especially if it ever sees the light of day.

Speaking of batteries ... I had a computer at work that the mobo battery was dying. I put in a new battery (CR2032) and the computer would no longer boot. Put in the mostly dead battery and it's fine. No clue. :roll:
Posted on Reply
#23
de.das.dude
Pro Indian Modder
by: Kreij
Thanks for the article Q. Interesting stuff.
I just have a dumbphone that I don't use much, can charge from my USB port and it lasts about a week, but new battery tech for all the "wired" junkies is always welcome news ... especially if it ever sees the light of day.

Speaking of batteries ... I had a computer at work that the mobo battery was dying. I put in a new battery (CR2032) and the computer would no longer boot. Put in the mostly dead battery and it's fine. No clue. :roll:
not dumber than the nokia 1100 i used only a couple of months ago.
Posted on Reply
#24
Zehnsucht
by: qubit
No wonder electric cars are still shunned by people that want real performance
I'm just nitpicking here, but the Tesla is popular here in Norway, I believe they have sold most units to Norway also (or maybe second place).

I've seen both the Roadster and S version here in the streets of Oslo. 0-60 mph in less than 4 seconds is faster than a standard issue Porsche 911.
Posted on Reply
#25
de.das.dude
Pro Indian Modder
yes i like that car. tesla. but its not cheap is it?
Posted on Reply
Add your own comment