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Better Batteries

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Better Batteries

Building a better battery has been an elusive challenge for decades—but we could make new headway in the coming years.

Key Insight

It’s a common first-world problem: Our devices never seem to have enough battery life, and just when we need power the most, we either forget our chargers or can’t find a spot to plug in.

Why It Matters

Building a better battery has been an elusive challenge for decades—but we could make new headway in the coming years.

Examples

Researchers at Monash University developed a lithium-sulphur battery that can power a smartphone for up to five days, outperforming lithium-ion batteries. IBM researchers developed a new kind of battery with materials extracted from sea water instead of heavy metals like cobalt.

Lithium-ion batteries have limits, which is why researchers at the University of California-Irvine are experimenting with gold nanowires housed in a gel electrolyte, which can last significantly longer than today’s batteries. And scientists at Ritsumeikan University and Panasonic are trying to squeeze the last bits of untapped energy out of lithium-ion batteries.

What’s Next

The problem with modern batteries isn’t about making the power—it’s about how to store enough of it. Startup Ossia Inc. built a wireless charging system that can power AA batteries from 30 feet away. Form Energy is trying to develop a “bidirectional power plant” that stores energy long-term, producing renewable energy and delivering it precisely when it is needed.

Meanwhile, at Google X, a new project called Malta aims to capture more clean energy produced by using salt, and to store it on a large scale. Malta incorporates a grid-scale energy storage technology that saves electricity from renewable energy sources as heat inside large tanks of high temperature molten salt, and as cold in large tanks of chilled liquid. The system can discharge electricity back to the grid when energy demand is high—effectively “time shifting” energy from when it’s produced to when it’s most needed.

Impact

Battery improvements will drive growth in consumer electronics and electric vehicles.

Watchlist

Alphabet, Baseload Renewables, Daimler AG, Energous Corp, Fisker Inc., Form Energy, Founders Fund, General Motors, Graphenano, Huawei, Ionic Materials, Jiangxi Ganfeng Lithium Co, Khosla Ventures, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Nissan, Ossia Inc, Qualcomm, Solid Firm, Tesla, the Federal Communications Commission, Tokyo Institute of Technology, Toyota, University of California-Irvine, US Department of Energy.