Ever since mobile phones became popular, the importance of rechargeable electric batteries has been steadily increasing worldwide. According to Wikipedia, in 2013, there were approximately 6.8 billion mobile phones (including smartphones) in use worldwide, and 97 out of every 100 people in the world owned at least one mobile phone. These figures include some of the poorest among us. Although a large number of users do not go beyond just voice calls (and the occasional text message), the availability of free, excellent, easy-to-use “apps” (or apps), which are growing in variety and number by the day, is gradually attracting many to this category to become ‘core’ mobile phone users. Many people who today use PCs as their primary computing device, realizing that PCs will soon cede their position of supremacy in the computing world, are also starting to switch to smartphones. These factors are expected to lead to a 35% increase in the number of smartphone users by 2020 (or 9.2 billion users worldwide).
As smartphones become thinner, lighter, smarter, use larger displays, etc., they also become increasingly power hungry. Thus, the critical need for high-capacity, super-fast-charging batteries that can be recharged many times before being discarded is critical to the success of future smartphones.
There are other important applications whose well-being depends on fast-charging batteries. One is the much-vaunted electric vehicle (EV) industry. Consumers expect the time to recharge the battery to be comparable to the time it takes to refuel at a gas station today, i.e. on the order of about 4-5 minutes. Another extremely important application is in smart grids – those intelligent power management centers where electricity inputs and outputs to consumers are managed. High capacity, fast charge/discharge batteries are needed to store excess energy (when energy input exceeds demand) and release it when there is a deficit. Slightly less critical, but still important, are fast-charging batteries used in smartwatches, smart homes, and personal health devices (PHDs).
A few years ago it became unmistakably clear that lithium-ion batteries (the best battery technology currently in use) would be grossly inadequate for future requirements. There is such a large gap between lithium-ion technology and the planned battery of the future that it has become quite obvious that nothing short of a “quantum leap” (or revolution) in battery technology would suffice. Therefore, while it was still in the news, frantic and frantic research was launched in many leading university and corporate R&D centers to find that sublime battery technology of the future with features such as: charging time in on the order of minutes or even seconds (wow!), lower weight (down to half in case of EV batteries), greater capacity, safety (no electrical fires and explosions reminiscent of the Boeing 787 accidents to expect! ), significantly lower cost, easy handling and cycle hours in the thousands and tens of thousands!
Thinking of achieving a “quantum leap” in technology in 1-2 years would have left many in the scientific community speechless in the recent past. But now things have changed! Man having advanced the frontiers of scientific knowledge by unprecedented leaps and bounds in recent times, today’s researchers sitting at the very pinnacles of scientific knowledge seem to offer promising solutions at the drop of a hat!
So, here is a set of the most promising technologies that are under investigation at the time of this writing. (Note: Research on fast battery charging is currently flooded with many alternative technologies competing for the top spot. Because there are so many, the author has not attempted to present an exhaustive list. Instead, the list below presents the most the best of the lot, in his opinion.)
ALUMINUM-GRAPHITE TECHNOLOGY (see references 2 and 4 for more details):
At the top of the list is aluminum-graphite technology, which is being developed at Stanford University, USA. It’s amazing because of its 1 minute (yes, 60 seconds!) loading time. Although its capacity is about half that of Li-ion, it more than makes up for this shortcoming with its amazing charging time. Compared to Li-ion’s life of about 1,000 charge cycles, aluminum-graphite lasts at least 7,500 cycles. It’s much safer than Li-ion too – researchers say that even if you drill through it, it won’t catch fire!
ALUMINUM-AIR TECHNOLOGY (FOR EV) (Reference numbers 1 and 2):
In the aluminum-air (Al-air) battery, oxygen from the air is used in the cathode and therefore no separate oxidizer is required. These types of batteries have energy densities that could provide an EV with enough power to put it on par with its gasoline counterparts. Range on one full charge is about 1000 miles! A few refills may be all you need if you drive up to 2,000 miles a month!
What is amazing about this battery is that it is only half the weight of the current lithium battery. By cutting half the weight of the battery, you get a lot more payload for carrying passengers and goods (Note: The battery is the heaviest component of an EV. In the Tesla Roadster, for example, the battery contributes about a third of the total weight, so the savings weight, i.e. one-sixth of the total, is considerable).
ALUMINUM-AIR TECHNOLOGY (FOR EV) (Reference 2):
This is a different type than the Al-air technology discussed above. Wow, because it runs on water (regular as well as sea water) and has 40 times the capacity of Li-ion!
FAST CHARGING BASED ON NANOTECHNOLOGIES (Reference 5):
StoreDot Ltd., an Israeli high-tech fast battery charging company, will soon come out with “FlashBattery for SmartPhones”, a universal charger for smartphones. The company uses proprietary organic compounds created/manipulated using nanotechnology.
What makes it amazing? It can recharge any phone, regardless of make or model, in one minute (maximum)!
Apart from phones, the charger can be used to charge wearables, PHDs, tablets and the like. However, there is a catch – even though it is proven, it is not yet commercially available! It may take a year before it becomes available in stores.
StoreDot will also soon offer “FlashBattery for EV,” a fast charger for electric vehicles. This product is designed to charge a car battery in just five minutes!
FAST CHARGING VIA RADIO WAVES (Reference 2):
In this technology, the electrical energy used for charging is transmitted via radio waves.
Not too amazing, except that it’s wireless and charges from up to 20 feet away. There is also a catch – it is not immediately available on the market.
ORGANIC FLOW TECHNOLOGY (Reference #2 and Wikipedia):
Developed by MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), organic flow technology generates electricity using the organic substance AQDS (9,10-anthraquinone-2,7-disulfonic acid) as a charge carrier.
It amazes us by reducing 97% of electricity production costs (from batteries) – while metal batteries provide 1 KWh of power for $700, organic flow batteries give you that much power for only $27!
NANOBATTERIES (References 2, 6 and Wikipedia):
Nanobatteries are made from “nano” sized batteries (ie, with dimensions in the range of 10 to -9 meters). “Nano” batteries are created by placing two electrodes in a small opening (or “nanopore”) in an electrically insulating membrane or metallic compound (such as aluminum oxide), separated by a thin insulating film. A large number of “nanopores” are fused together to form a complete battery.
Something superior about them? yes Nanopores are so small in size that they cannot be seen individually. They can hold up to four times more energy than Li-ion and fully charge in 10 minutes. In addition, they have a life of about 1000 charge cycles.
NTU’S LITHIUM TITANIUM DIOXIDE TECHNOLOGY (FOR EVs) (Reference 7&Wikipedia):
This is a technological breakthrough from Singapore-based Nanyang Technological University (NTU). By replacing the graphite cathode found in lithium-ion batteries with a cheap gel made from titanium dioxide, NTU claims to have developed an ultra-fast-charging battery that charges up to 70% of its capacity in two minutes! Apart from the two-minute charging time, what impresses is its outstanding life of 20 years.
Mainly aimed at electric vehicles, the battery life factor is expected to significantly reduce costs that would otherwise be incurred due to frequent battery replacement.
NOTE: As mentioned earlier, fast charging battery research is a developing field that is currently filled with several alternative technologies that show promise. Technologies based on metal foam substrate, silicon, sodium ions, urine-powered microbial fuel cells, solar energy, hydrogen, candle soot, and several others under research and development were bypassed in compiling the above list , which the author believes are the best of the lot. One notable omission is Meredith Perry’s “over-the-air charging” technology, which uses ultrasound-transmitted electricity to charge. A long-awaited, highly praised technology until recently, apparently failed to pass the final evaluation tests, so it had to be excluded from consideration.
References: (Cut+paste the link into your browser is required to access reference numbers 3 to 7)
1. Geoffrey Marlowe, “The 10 Hottest Areas of Scientific Research,” The 10 Hottest Areas of Scientific Research | Wired, http://www.wired.com/2013/08/the-10-hottest-fields-of-science-research/
2. Pocket-lint, “Future Batteries, Coming Soon: Charging in Seconds, Last Months, and Over-the-Air Charging,” Future Batteries, Coming Soon: Charging in Seconds, Last Months, and Over-the-Air Charging – Pocket-lint, http:// www.pocket-lint.com/news/130380-future-batteries-coming-soon-charge-in-seconds-last-months-and-power-over-the-air
3. ScienceDaily, “Battery Research,” Battery News — Science Daily, sciencedaily.com/news/matter_energy/batteries/
4. Stanford University, “Stanford aluminum battery offers safe alternative to conventional batteries,” news.stanford.edu/news/2015/march/aluminum-ion-battery-033115.HTML
5. StoreDot Ltd., “FlashBattery for Smartphones,” StoreDot What We Do, store-dot.com/#!smartphones/c1u5l
6. Ars Technica, “New battery made up of many nanobatteries,” | Ars Technica, arstechnica.com/science/2014/11/new-battery-composed-of-lots-of-nanobatteries/
7. Nanyang Technological University, “NTU develops ultra-fast rechargeable batteries that last 20 years,” News Detail, media.ntu.edu.sg/NewsReleases/Pages/newsdetail.aspx?news=809fbb2f-95f0-4995-b5c0-10ae4c50c934