Is tin the secret to longer battery life?

Is tin the secret to longer battery life?
One of the great ironies of the mobile revolution is how we end up feeling even more dependent on cords, since we have to plug our devices frequently to recharge them. Battery recharging issues may have come to a head last year, when the first LTE devices shipped and users found they sometimes had to charge them twice (or more) a day, depending on usage.  Now it’s on everyone’s mind, and surveys show that smartphone users consistently rank battery life as one of the top qualities they seek in a handset.

But alas, physics is a tough task master, so there are only so many ways to improve battery life. You can make a device sip less energy, although this comes at the cost of reduced performance. The only major gains that hardware can provide tend to be major generational shifts in chips, as manufacturers introduce smaller transistors to their chips.

Increasing battery size is obviously another possibility, and is they route taken by the Motorola Droid RAZR MAXX, which achieves its astonishing battery life by packing a whopping 3300 mAH battery inside its chassis. But this solution quickly provides diminishing returns; customers adore battery life, but also love them some skinny phones that will slide into their pants pocket. The other problem is that making batteries larger also increases the charge time, a fact that RAZR MAXX and new iPad owners can both attest to.

The third solution is to increase the density at which batteries can pack electrons – literally to cram more charge into the same space. This is the ideal solution, but is also the hardest one – hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent researching how to increase battery density. That usually requires the introduction of new materials for the anode of the battery with something that holds more electrons than graphene. Silicon is a favorite choice of researchers, and could lead to a ten-fold increase in battery density.

The problem is that silicon is harder to make into anodes; people want better batteries, but they aren’t willing to pay as much as a used car for them. But according to researchers at Washington State University there may be a shorter-term answer: Tin anodes. Tin isn’t as good at packing in electrons as silicon, but it’s significantly better than graphene, packing in three times as many electrons. Another benefit is that tin anodes charge faster, so the increased battery life wouldn’t require an equally increased charge time.

Most importantly, tin is easier to manufacture. It can be electroplated right to copper wires (graphene requires an extra step to get it to adhere) so it’s possible that tin anodes could eventually be cheaper to produce. Grant Norton, head of the materials science team working on tin anodes, thinks this could move from lab to production fairly quickly if a tech company were to properly invest in the process.

So here’s hoping that soon tin will be in more than just our pop cans – let’s hope someone runs with this and gives us affordable battery life that lasts 2-3x as long as today!

source: WSU News via Forbes

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