Five cool battery inventions that could change modern life forever
27 March 2013 | Rachel England
The first incarnation of the battery came about in 1800, but since then they’ve become an integral part of our lives, varying in size from the monsters used in our cars to the tiny lithium dots in watches. Batteries have 3 main components: 2 electrodes (the positive anode and the negative cathode) and a medium called an electrolyte, which allows positively charged ions to move between the electrodes in balance with the flow of negatively charged electrons. This is the ‘useful current’, or the battery’s ‘zap’, for want of a better term.
Despite the fact that batteries have been so critical to technological evolution, they’re not so great for the environment. In fact, they’re difficult and dangerous to get rid of, and their disposable nature means they’re pretty wasteful, too. But like all things in these techy times, plans are afoot to make batteries slimmer, cheaper, more efficient and better for the environment.
Check out these 5 cool developments, and read our guide to battery energy storage technology here.
After the trusty AA or AAA battery, rechargeable lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries are usually our go-to energy source, responsible for powering mobile devices such as phones and tablet computers. The problem with these, as anyone who experiences battery drain on a regular basis will know, is that they don’t really last very long, and smartphone addicts can struggle to get through the day without hooking up their device to a charger. So scientists set about looking for an alternative, and came up with lithium-air batteries, where oxygen is used as a catalyst for exchanging electrons. And boy, do they address the battery-life issue. This type of battery can theoretically hold more than 40 times the charge as a lithium ion battery the same weight.
However, to produce them would mean mining more nickel and cobalt, which could negatively impact the environment in a number of ways. The technology looks promising, but we’ll probably have to wait until 2027 before laptops will only need charging once a month.
Batteries using sulphur alongside lithium might be out a little sooner – maybe in 2022. They’ll have double or triple the energy density of today's lithium ion batteries, which means they would keep your phone or laptop going for longer.
Unfortunately, these experimental batteries still need a bit of fine-tuning, as they lose 20% of their capacity after just 100 cycles – that’s 10 times less than lithium ion. Fingers crossed they’ll get it nailed in the next 5 years!
Samsung claims to have developed a battery that charges 5 times faster than standard lithium-ion batteries. The team of researchers at the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology (SAIT) has developed a unique battery material called “graphene1 ball”, which, in theory, needs just 12 minutes to fully charge. It might also allow battery capacities to grow by 45%.
This new super-charging technology isn’t just good news for mobile devices, it’s also great for electric vehicles and other items that would benefit from high-capacity batteries.
It’s not clear when we’ll be able to fully charge our iPhone while eating our brekkie, but we hope it’s pretty soon.
Batteries aren’t just for gadgets anymore. In fact, battery storage systems with solar could be the answer to our future energy system. That’s why, in October 2017, we teamed up with Nissan to bring you OVO SolarStore (Beta) – the powerful home battery that harnesses the potential of solar set-ups. This innovative collaboration is the first of its kind in the UK, designed to get more homes storing and selling power back to the grid.
It combines VNet – OVO’s groundbreaking intelligent energy technology – with the capabilities of the innovative Nissan xStorage Home system. It’s great for you, as you can store more of your solar-generated energy and use it at home when the sun isn’t shining. And it’s great for everyone else, as it helps balance energy demand, which reduces the peak-time energy generation that tends to be carbon-intensive.
Not only could it lower your bills by an average of £590 in the first year2, but by joining the beta you’ll also be helping to create a greener, more-efficient energy system for the UK.
Electric vehicles (EVs) are the future of clean energy transportation. And range anxiety really could become a thing of the past with new technologies like Toshiba’s next-generation SCiB. Toshiba claims that this new fast-charging battery will allow an EV with a drive range of 320km to travel 3 times further – and then be fully recharged again in 6 minutes. Not bad.
It uses a new material for the anode called titanium niobium oxide, which has been arranged into a crystal structure to store lithium ions more efficiently. Impressively, this has doubled the energy density. This development could make a significant difference to the range and performance of EV – and might be out as soon as 2019.
Do you drive an EV? Then you might be interested in the bundle we’ve designed especially for you. It combines a 2 Year Fixed energy plan with 2 free add-ons, for effortless charging at home and on the road. Check it out – it’s called EV Everywhere.