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What is the future of battery

technology?
The Telegraph
Matthew Sparkes19 hrs ago

Provided by The Telegraph


Sir James Dyson has made a $15m bet on a new battery technology, but
what is it, and what other research is being done to give our smartphones a
longer working life?
Sir James Dyson made his first investment outside his eponymous company
this week, ploughing $15m into a company called Sakti3 whose solidstate technology promises cheaper and more energy-dense batteries.
The idea being that the cash will help bring the company's creation outside
the lab and to commercial reality - in Dyson products.
But what is a solid-state battery, and what other technologies are being
developed to give smartphones, electric cars and cordless vacuum cleaners
a longer life? We look at some of the most promising research today.
Solid-state batteries
A battery is composed of electrodes and an electrolyte. Electrodes were
traditionally metal conductors, and the electrolyte some kind of fluid. As the
name suggests, solid-state batteries use a solid electrolyte.
This eliminates any problems with leakage and also allows them to be
miniaturised. This is the technology being worked on by Sakti3 - a

University of Michigan spin-off - but they are yet to commercialise it. The
tricky bit is inventing a decent manufacturing process, rather than
developing the science - the concept is well established but they're not easy
to make cheaply.
The company claims to have produced a battery with an energy density of
1,100 watt hours per litre of volume, which would be around 50 per cent
better than lithium-ion batteries, but this has not been independently
tested.
Lithium-ion
This is the kind of battery already found in most consumer electronics and
electric cars. They include a flammable liquid electrolyte so can be
dangerous if damaged.
They were first proposed in the 1970s but it wasn't until 1991 that Sony and
Asahi Kasei launched the first commercial unit. Now they're everywhere.
There's lots of talk about potential replacements for lithium-ion, but so far
nothing has been up to the job. Gradual improvements in cost, storage
density and manufacturing economies of scale mean it's still the best
choice for many applications.
In fact, Tesla is currently building a $5bn "Gigafactory" in Nevada to build
them on such a scale that it will cut production costs by 30 per cent.
EvenApple is poaching battery engineers to create its own research
division. So it looks like the technology is here to stay for some time yet.
Lithium-sulfur
These batteries were used on the first solar-powered airplane flight in 2008
- PV panels powered the craft's propeller and also recharged batteries
during the day to maintain power throughout the night. Sion Power is one of
the companies working on these devices, receiving a $5m grant from the
US government in 2010 and $50m investment from BASF in 2012. It claims
that the technology could eventually see energy density of 2,600 watt
hours per litre of volume.
Supercapacitors

These aren't technically batteries at all, but just high-capacity capacitors.


The benefit is that they can, just like their miniature relatives, be charged in
seconds. The downside is that they can't hold much energy. They've already
been used in low-power devices such as electric screwdrivers, which could
charge-up in 90 seconds and drive around half as many screws as a normal
cordless machine. In certain circumstances they could be just the ticket.
Hydrogen fuel cells
These work like petrol cars, in the sense that you have to fill a tank up with
fuel - in this case hydrogen. But instead of burning it there's a chemical
reaction which uses a reaction with oxygen to create a flow of ions. The
technology was invented in 1838 but not put to use until NASA used them
in space probes. They've long been proposed for cars, but companies like
Apple have experimented with fitting them to smartphones.
Remote wireless charging
Wireless charging - where you place your device on a special mat to charge
it - are becoming increasingly common, but battery issues remain the same.
Remote wireless charging has the potential to change things radically.
Microsoft scientists have been working on a machine which can spot
smartphones and automatically charge them with a focused beam
of light. These devices could be fitted in homes, offices and cafes so that,
in theory, you may never have to charge your phone manually again.