One of the long held truths of the battery business is that it’s tough to develop new longer-lasting batteries because we aren’t discovering any new elements. There are only so many chemical elements and compounds the Earth can provide that are suitable for use as battery components. The first dry cell battery was invented in 1866 and ever since then mankind has been trying to improve on it. We’ve tried everything.
Thanks to advances in technology, we can now understand the interactions between different chemicals at a level Georges LeClanche’ could never have dreamed of. The challenge is not only to make a longer lasting battery but one that’s more environmentally friendly. The electrolytes and other chemicals in batteries are often hazardous in large concentrations and requiring recycling when they expire. So for the last several years, researchers have been working to solve these challenges. And now, they may be on the verge of a number of breakthroughs. And as the world becomes more dependent on technology it couldn’t come at a better time.
Researchers in Ireland recently claim to have developed a lithium ion battery that utilizes a germanium nanowire anode that doubles the capacity and the lifespan. Instead of the usual 500 charge cycles, this new battery retains its capacity after 1000 cycles. Not only that, but they claim it will be affordable and more eco-friendly. Imagine a laptop or phone battery that lasts twice as long under charge and last twice as long for its normal lifespan. Pretty awesome, huh?
But let’s think bigger. Much bigger. How about a battery system that powers your entire house or even your neighborhood? A company in Silicon Valley is developing a Vanadium redox flow battery that could conceivably last forever. Vanadium is an element that can conduct both a positive and negative charge. As a result it doesn’t degrade over time like normal compound batteries. Subsequently the Vanadium electrolyte in the battery can be endlessly reused. On the downside, it isn’t as efficient as a lithium ion battery and would be quite a bit larger. But when you couple it with solar or wind turbine charging, you could potentially go off the electrical grid.
To top it all off, a company in Israel just announced that they have developed an organic nano-crystal technology that makes it possible for a battery to be recharged in as little as 30 seconds! Better still, the nano-crystals are made of organic materials, making it less expensive to produce. There’s still work to be done on this though. The battery itself hasn’t been refined enough to fit inside cellphones or laptops yet, nor does it last as long but it’s a promising start.