Who wouldn’t want a battery that would last forever? I mean, imagine a situation where you would never have to replace the battery in your smartphone, laptop, or all the other gadgets that use lithium-ion batteries.
Sure, you would have to keep charging them after using them for a while. But the point with such a battery is that you never have to worry about going round town looking for a replacement battery for your gadget, and hoping at the same time that when you eventually find and buy the new battery, it would as good as the original.
Fact is, of you have ever have to replace your battery, the idea of getting very good replacement batteries is as ludicrous as getting Apple to use Android OS as the default operating system in all Apple devices. Not likely to happen.
But having the sort of battery that would never require replacement is already here with us. That is if you believe researchers at University of California.
The trick was to use nanowires to make the essential components of the batteries.
Using nanowire to make batteries that could be used in our devices is not a revolutionary idea. It has been done before. The only problem is that these materials cannot stand the stress of the discharging-recharging cycles involved.
When used in li-ion batteries, they easily expand, harden and begin to break. In other words, they wouldn’t last long.
The researchers discovered a way to go past that hurdle.
Meet Mya Le Thai, the lead doctoral student and researcher who could just have elevated himself to the status of a small god.
Mya took some gold nanowires, coated them with manganese dioxide, then finally buried the coated nanowires in a gel-like electrolyte made from plexiglass.
During vigorous testing over a three months period, the battery made with nanowires electrodes were cycled (that is the charge-discharge-charge cycle) for over 200,000 times. The remarkable thing was that over this period, the whole ensemble showed no sign of deterioration or decreased ability to hold the maximum power.
In other words, after three months of testing, the battery was still performing like a new battery.
To put the test in context, the average lithium-ion cycle has a limited number of charge cycles. Most of them top out at 1500 charge cycles. After this point, the batteries can no longer hold charge for long.
200,000 charge cycles is over 100 times more that the charge cycles of the very good li-ion battery. The average life span of these good batteries are about 3 years before their performance begin to lag.
In simple terms, a battery that has more that 100 times the charge cycle of very good lithium-ion batteries would last roughly 300 years.
In practice, that is several generations of people we are talking about.
Light at the end of the tunnel?
The report of this research was published in April this year if you are wondering about it. So it is almost exactly six months since the world first heard of this breakthrough.
Since then, everything has being silent on that front. The question now is, are vested interests conspiring to make sure a device like this never saw the light of day.
Vested interests would include battery makers and OEMs who make sure we buy new gadgets because we can’t get good replacement batteries.
On the other hand, entrepreneurs could be out there trying to find ways to make these sort of batteries on a large scale. But I am not waiting for that to happen.
I can bet a years paycheck that even if they finally make a battery like that, it would be so expensive only the very rich could be able to afford them in their gadgets.
Take smartphones for instance: now the prize of some models are differentiated by the size of the RAM, the internal storage space and size of screen. With nanowires-made li-ion batteries, separate smartphones would now be made containing these batteries at a very steep cost. Steep enough to make them exclusive to the very rich.
Having something like this is the only instance I see non-removeable batteries in smartphones making sense. Because the biggest opposition to non-removeable batteries is the difficulty or in some cases impossibility of changing them.
Batteries that could last a lifetime would have as much impact on technology as the discovery by ancient men that they could also make fire.
image credit: computerworld.com; news.uci.edu; deccanchronicle.com; 99percentinvisible.org