There’s something in the air when it comes to the future of batteries. In fact, the air itself might be an essential component of one of many future battery options.
Whether it’s charging our many devices or providing power in our homes and offices, batteries are an ever-present consideration. Waiting for devices to power up and worrying how long a charge will last are part of our every-day life.
Batteries of the future may likely look a lot different, provide the power needed by devices requiring more juice, and offer us even more control.
The push for better batteries has federal support as well. The U.S. Department of Energy in 2012 established the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research in order to help researchers overcome the scientific and technical barriers that exist today in battery research.
The Race to Power
For many years, the lithium-ion battery has been the predominant solution for electronics. Yet, while computer storage has become more efficient each year, improvements to lithium-ion batteries have been minimal at best.
That’s why there is a feverish push to consider alternatives and develop batteries.
Lithium-ion batteries are generally effective in our electronic devices. But, as a recent Wired magazine article pointed out, the batteries do not scale. Larger lithium-ion batteries can overheat and explode easily.
They also wear out. The constant cycling from 100 percent to 0 takes a toll. Over time, the charging and discharging cycles cause lithium-ion batteries to lose their efficacy.
Future battery technology could make the need for recharging far less frequent.
Researching New Options
Today, companies are furiously competing to develop new solutions. From looking to buy gallium for internal temperature monitoring purposes to pushing the battery materials themselves, the technology news related to battery innovation is promising, Among those solutions being researched are:
- Molten Metal. Combining two metal alloys with salt results in an electrochemical reaction that could drive a new power source. Companies, like Ambri, are experimenting with battery packs made up of hundreds of cells containing the molten metals.
- Saltwater. Aquion is a company looking to leverage materials such as stainless steel and cotton to fuel reactions with materials that are nonflammable, noncaustic, and nontoxic. The company has 250 installations already worldwide. Aquion’s product and other liquid-based batteries would be a paradigm shift from the solid-state batteries that have dominated during the past 200 years of battery research. Basically, these batteries would store a charge in a liquid that would be pumped through a battery and recharge it by moving the liquid in the opposite direction.
- Lithium-Air. These batteries use air to react electrochemically with lithium. Researchers claim these batteries could have energy storage capacities five-to-seven-times greater than lithium-ion batteries. They’d also be much lighter.
- Hybrid. Hybrid approaches are a possibility, such as those that would create an oxygen-based reaction with a charge stored in a liquid medium. Such batteries are more conceptual at this time, but could also lead to the use of other elements such as magnesium and sulfur.
Regardless of which solution ends up gaining ground, there is confidence among researchers that newer batteries will be lighter, cheaper, safer, and last longer.