Batteries that can't explode and last a lifetime are on the horizon

It seems that each year has brought with it a major development in smartphone technology. Each year we get better cameras with more impressive low light performance; bigger, brighter displays with less bezel; CPUs and GPUs that leave the previous year’s benchmarks in the dust. Yet the one place where we have seen little improvement is with the battery. Finally, companies have stopped trying to make phones thinner, and have started to embrace bigger batteries. But we should not rely on this for the future. Band-Aid solutions like quick charging help us to get more from our battery but also come with risks like overheating and faster battery degradation.

The baseline: Lithium-ion batteries

Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries power most of our electronic devices today, and they have a lot of good things going for them: they are cheap to produce, can have high capacities, and can recharge fairly quickly. But they also have their downsides: degradation in their capacity over time cause them to only last around two years, and charging them quickly produces a lot of heat. And Li-ion batteries do not like heat; it causes them to degrade faster and can also cause them to catch fire. 

Luckily, we can only get better from here. What do we want to see in new smartphone batteries? Higher capacities, less degradation over time, increased stability (safety), and faster charging. Let’s see what new technology can offer us.

Changing the structure: Disordered Cathodes

Today’s Li-ion batteries are created by making neat layers of lithium atoms and transition metal atoms. Scientists refer to this as ‘ordered’. Having an ordered structure allows lithium to pass easily between the layers and provides a high capacity for batteries. But this can be improved by making batteries with a ‘disordered’ structure. However, until a breakthrough by Berkeley scientists, the problem was that there was no determinate way of creating disordered cathodes. Their research showed that certain types of disordered material could store more lithium than their ordered counterparts thus leading to higher capacities. The same team also found that they were able to make the batteries have longer lives and that are less likely to catch fire by a process called fluorination. 

If disordered Li-ion batteries make it to the market, we could see smartphones with higher capacity batteries that are safer.

Graphene Ball – The next step?

One of the problems with quick charging is that it leads to faster battery degradation. But there is new research that shows how researchers from Samsung and Seoul National University were able to coat electrodes with graphene. This allowed them to create a battery that could charge to full in just 12 minutes, or five times faster than current technology. That battery also had a 45% increase in capacity. The project leader, Dr. Son In-hyuk, said that their research: ‘enables mass synthesis of multifunctional composite material graphene at an affordable price.’ This means that we could be seeing batteries using a graphene ball electrode coating relatively soon. 

It would bring us batteries that have higher capacities, operate at a stable temperature, and charge very quickly without significant battery degradation. Samsung notes that this kind of battery would be very useful for electric vehicles, which currently take a long time to charge. 

Magnesium solid-state

While the first two technologies are mostly improvements to the Li-ion battery, a solid-state magnesium-ion battery is far different. What sets it apart from its Li-ion counterpart is that the electrolyte is solid, not liquid like we find in batteries nowadays. This means that the battery is far safer than one that uses a liquid electrolyte because it will not catch fire like the Li-ion battery. In addition, the capacity of a magnesium battery would double that of a Li-ion battery. 

Unfortunately, the technology for making such a battery is still in its very early stages. But when it sees the light of day, we will have one of the safest batteries ever made.

Gold Nanowire

Nanowire batteries provide benefits such as quick charging and higher power density. But the crux had been that they did not have a great life cycle. In September 2010, a silicon nanowire battery could only cycle, or discharge and recharge, 250 times before degrading below 80% of the original capacity. For reference, current Li-ion batteries can cycle around 400 times before experiencing significant degradation. 

But in 2016, Mya Le Thai, a doctoral candidate at the University of California Irvine, solved this problem by coating gold nanowire with Manganese-oxide and placing it in a poly(methyl methacrylate) gel electrolyte. Don’t worry if that did not make any sense, the bottom line is that it makes the battery infinitely stronger than before. Her new method yielded a battery that could cycle over 100,000 times without experiencing significant degradation. 

If this kind of battery could be mass-produced, we will have devices that are powered by batteries which will virtually never degrade during the device’s lifetime. 

What can we look forward to in the meantime?

Yes, most of these technologies are far away on the horizon, but there is hope for the not so distant future. Samsung seems like they are capable of efficiently producing graphene ball batteries which would offer us major improvements. Until then, we can look forward to new ways to pack more li-ion power into our devices. For smartwatches, we could see watch bands with flexible batteries built in. In late 2016, Panasonic showed off a flexible Li-ion battery, and recently we have seen patents from Samsung indicating that they may also be working on such a development. 

What matters most to you in a battery? High capacities, ultra-fast charging, safety? Let us know in the comments. 



1. Anonymous.

Posts: 423; Member since: Jun 15, 2016

We've been hearing and seeing so many new battery concepts, I hope we'll get something concrete soon enough.

21. cheetah2k

Posts: 2271; Member since: Jan 16, 2011

None of these technologies will come quick. We only started using Lithium polymer Graphene batteries early last year - I use these flying quadcopters, and while they have enhanced amp draw, less heat, and should charge more, they seem to be about the same as the non-grapheme lipos in terms of life.. Long ways to go yet. And also to make the tech cheap. Cost is going to be the largest hurdle..

22. Suo.Eno

Posts: 556; Member since: Feb 17, 2013

Some might not even make it out of the lab at all. They might either get bought off their patents and be stashed out for God knows what as what has happened to several proofs of concept over the past 5 years. I'm inclined to take off my tinfoil hat but it's here this side of the desk just in case.

34. NarutoKage14

Posts: 1327; Member since: Aug 31, 2016

I think everyone here will be long dead by the time these batteries come to the consumer market.

2. afrohoxha

Posts: 259; Member since: Mar 13, 2014

And last a lifetime to appear on commercial products -_-. We know how it goes.

3. UglyFrank

Posts: 2194; Member since: Jan 23, 2014

I'll believe it when it's actually in a commercial product.

28. epdm2be

Posts: 824; Member since: Apr 20, 2012

hmmm.... frankly I don't believe it at all. Sorry, seen too much good tech disappear over the past years. We should have had flying cars by now.

36. makatijules

Posts: 835; Member since: Dec 11, 2017

We do have flying cars. They are simply not commercially available, if that is what you mean. :-)

4. swarai

Posts: 87; Member since: Aug 07, 2014

Samsung? and they'll still make phones with 3K mah just so they can slowly bring this technology in if at all -_-

9. southernzombie

Posts: 357; Member since: Jan 17, 2017

Maybe, but 3000mAh is enough to get most people thru a day, and if you can charge it from dead to full in a matter of a few minutes, how big of battery do you really need?

13. Anonymous.

Posts: 423; Member since: Jun 15, 2016

Well, 3600mAh is good enough for me!

16. p51d007

Posts: 705; Member since: Nov 24, 2013

4,000mAH in my last 3 phones, about a day and 1/2 with moderate/heavy use.

37. makatijules

Posts: 835; Member since: Dec 11, 2017

But I get a day and a half on Samsung 3000-3300MaH batteries. Even with all its features and capabilities that I know the phone you are referring too, doesn't have.

29. epdm2be

Posts: 824; Member since: Apr 20, 2012

Remember that in the past we could use our phones for about a WEEK before we had to charge our batteries. And some of these phones even had REAL camera-flashes not these stupid tiny LED-bulbs.

38. makatijules

Posts: 835; Member since: Dec 11, 2017

But those phones had ZERO capabilities. The battery only had to power a backlight. Most of those phones didn't have wifi, BT, sdcards, power hungry chips and 12MP cameras. To compare those phone with today's smartphones, which is a near full computer in your pocket is poor logic at best.

17. worldpeace

Posts: 3135; Member since: Apr 15, 2016

3K mah? why not write it as 3Ah if you want too make it shorter? But anyway, 1821 mAh is more than enough /s

5. FreshPrinceOfH

Posts: 81; Member since: Dec 31, 2017

Charge speed is only a band aid for the low capacity of current batteries. Higher capacity and better longevity is far more important. At the moment your battery fails, (or fails to be fit for purpose) long before the device is no longer useful. Phones are being replaced because batteries have too short a life span and are too expensive and difficult to replace in the current crop of super glued waterproof devices.

6. Arch_Fiend

Posts: 3951; Member since: Oct 03, 2015

I really liked that glass battery by one of the founders of Lithium-ion batteries, seemed very promising, more so than the rest of the so called new batteries.

7. Jrod99

Posts: 758; Member since: Jan 15, 2016

We do need something better. Don’t care for a flexible li-ion on my wrist. Before you know it you have a nub instead of a hand. Ouch.

8. surethom

Posts: 1716; Member since: Mar 04, 2009

O for goodness sake come back with a battery story they they will be released withing 1 year. This must be the 50th new battery tech story in 5 years & still no new battery tech.

10. chenski

Posts: 774; Member since: Mar 22, 2015

Lol my children will probably be as old as me before this comes to the market

11. Hollowmost

Posts: 424; Member since: Oct 10, 2017

Is this throw back Tuesday post ?

12. jacky899

Posts: 431; Member since: May 16, 2017

Longevity is the most important as that allows people to own their devices and batteries longer and reduce toxic waste in our environment. But I doubt the likes of Samsung or other major manufacturers would like that idea as their business will take a big hit in long term profit.

30. epdm2be

Posts: 824; Member since: Apr 20, 2012

Longevity is important for consumers. It is the least important for commercial entities whether manufacturers of phones, TV's washing machines or software. Of course, everybody wants to have a job with a reasonable income. Everybody wants to "improve" his or hers lifestyle with materialistic products and luxury. So we'll just have to follow suit. Unless we changes our hunt for luxury and materialism which I doubt will happen.

15. p51d007

Posts: 705; Member since: Nov 24, 2013

Promise from the battery industry # 1,294 that batteries will last longer and have more power...

18. Boybawang

Posts: 205; Member since: Jun 02, 2013

Phone manufacturers will be reluctant to solve the battery degradation issue because they want us to buy their phones every year.

19. pongkie

Posts: 663; Member since: Aug 20, 2011

there is a power bank that uses graphene tech in Kickstarter. fully charges in 25 mins

20. lyndon420

Posts: 6823; Member since: Jul 11, 2012

Yup I saw that as well. The OEM's will be watching these start ups very closely.

23. Suo.Eno

Posts: 556; Member since: Feb 17, 2013

Already had me at "45% increase in capacity" so get 'em graphene balls rolling and quick ffs.

24. hansip87

Posts: 228; Member since: Nov 10, 2015

until somebody try hard enough to market such breakthrough, OEM will stay with old tech, which guarantees their device purchase every 2 years.

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