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There’s a new battery technology on the horizon, and there’s a good chance it’s going to change the way you use your devices — soon.  By replacing the graphite anode in lithium-ion batteries with titanium dioxide nanotubes, researchers at Nanyang Technical University of Singapore have been able to dramatically improve the charge time and durability of lithium-ion battery cells.

Why is this important?  Because, right now, all of us, in one way or another, find ourselves planning our lives around the limitations of modern battery technologies.

Consumers don’t buy electric cars, because batteries aren’t good enough (despite the vehicles themselves being faster, more efficient, and more durable).  Consumers worry about the charge of their smartphones.  Patients with implantable medical devices like pacemakers have to worry about the charge levels, and the consequences can be dire.  Modern batteries, despite massive advances in the recent years, are slow to charge, don’t store very much power, and degrade quite quickly.  As a result, they form the long tentpole in a lot of areas, from augmented reality Augmented Reality Games: Are They Worth The Money? Augmented Reality Games: Are They Worth The Money? Wouldn't it be easier to play a first person shooter if you were actually holding the gun? Or are such enhancements largely redundant in an age when mobile gaming can stand on its own. Read More to self driving cars Autonomous Cars: Are Robots Good for the Environment? Autonomous Cars: Are Robots Good for the Environment? The way we use cars is going to change.  Those changes will be wide-ranging, but one area that hasn't been investigated in as much detail: the impact on the environment. Read More .

There are a lot of new battery technologies on the horizon, Battery Technologies That Are Going to Change the World Battery Technologies That Are Going to Change the World Battery tech has been growing more slowly than other technologies, and is now the long tent pole in a staggering number of industries. What will the future of battery technology be? Read More  but this one is notable for how close it is to commercialization.

How Titanium Dioxide Batteries Work

carcharging

So how does the new breakthrough work?  In a conventional lithium-ion battery, the negative terminal (anode) is typically made of fine graphite, which has a relatively high surface area, allowing it to react efficiently with the acid in the battery, producing a current (or drawing a current, during charging).  However, these reactions are not perfect, and, over time the battery loses capacity.

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Right now, typical batteries lose a substantial fraction of their maximum charge capacity in just five hundred charge cycles (a little more than a year’s worth of being charged every day) — and, because the reaction generates heat, there are limits to how much juice you can pour into a battery without increasing the inefficiency of the reaction and risking thermal damage to the battery.

The team at NTU solved this by developing a simple, inexpensive technique for converting titanium dioxide, an abundant industrial material, into nano-tube structures about a thousand times thinner than a human hair.  This makes the chemical reactions that make the battery work substantially more efficient.

This has two effects: first, the battery can take more current with less heat, allowing the battery to be charged to 70% capacity in about two minutes.  Second, the battery’s chemical reactions are more efficient, both during use and recharging.  That means that the battery degrades much more slowly, allowing the same battery to potentially be used for more than two decades without being replaced.

Faster Charging and Longer Life

The batteries also ought to be somewhat more dense, since the nanotube gel How Nanotechnology is Changing the Future of Medicine How Nanotechnology is Changing the Future of Medicine The potential for nanotechnology is unprecedented. True universal assemblers will usher in a profound shift in the human condition. Of course, there's still a long way to go. Read More can bind to the terminal without the need for glues, a change in design that increases overall reactant mass.

nanotubes

These new batteries will likely have wide-ranging implications, including helping to drop charge times at vehicle charging stations down to wait times comparable with traditional gas automobiles (the golden sub-five-minute-range). They may also save drivers from having to replace their batteries every few years, a chore that can cost thousands of dollars.

It also makes it much more practical to ‘fast-charge’ your devices throughout the day, as needed.  Forgot to charge your phone How to Make Your Phone's Battery Last Longer and Hold More Juice How to Make Your Phone's Battery Last Longer and Hold More Juice Battery life is one of the biggest struggles of modern-day electronics. Smartphones, tablets, and laptops all deal with it -- so what can you do to maximize the amount of time you get per charge? Read More last night?  No problem — you can throw it on the charger, and it’ll be ready to go by the time you find your other sock.  These contribute a lot of value to the way we use our devices, and will go a long way towards freeing us up from charge anxiety and letting us use our devices in a more natural, unencumbered way.

It’s not the silver bullet of denser, faster charging, and more durable, but two out of three ain’t bad.

New Batteries Coming Soon

Because the technology can be integrated into existing battery manufacturing processes, it’s likely that it’ll hit the market sooner rather than later.  The creator, Dr. Chen, is in the process of licensing the technology to a battery manufacturer, and expects the first batteries made with the technology to hit the market within two years.

pileofbatteries

Rachid Yazami, the co-inventor of the graphite-anode lithium-ion battery and Dr. Chen’s colleague at NTU, feels that Chen’s technology is the logical next step forward for battery technology

“While the cost of lithium-ion batteries has been significantly reduced and its performance improved since Sony commercialised it in 1991, the market is fast expanding towards new applications in electric mobility and energy storage. […] Ideally, the charge time for batteries in electric vehicles should be less than 15 minutes, which Prof Chen’s nanostructured anode has proven to do.”

Are you excited for the future of battery technology? Which applications would most impact your life? Could this be the tipping point to buying an electric vehicle for you? Let us know in the comments!

Image credits: Battery Via Shutterstock, “Battery Recycling“, by Heather Kennedy, “Electric Car Charging,” by Alan Trotter, “Nanotubes-300,” by James Joel, “Carbon Nanotube,” by Geoff Hutchison

  1. Bruce
    November 17, 2016 at 2:11 am

    It's been two years and once again the HYPE leads us nowhere. Sounds like the promising cures for cancer we keep reading about. Exactly, whatever it takes to sell online ads at the expense of fake news.

  2. Ravi
    January 7, 2015 at 5:17 pm

    Hope I get to see this within my lifetime. P.s: I am about to turn 28 years old.

  3. Rob
    December 23, 2014 at 7:39 pm

    Yeah this guy should talk to Elon Musk over at Tesla...

  4. Jeff
    November 14, 2014 at 12:07 am
  5. Jitendra Adhikari
    October 25, 2014 at 5:44 pm

    This will be really cool but I doubt the manufacturers will bring this out soon as business-wise this will be a disaster for the company - just imagine one buys a battery which lasts for 20 years - that person will not need to buy another for the next 20 years!!!

    • den eng
      November 5, 2014 at 4:29 pm

      It sounds a lot like the problem light bulb makers faced when technology and science produced a longer lasting bulb filament and longer lasting bulbs, meaning that people wouldn't need to buy so many bulbs.

      Which then resulted in the forerunner of planned obsolescence.

      In this case though, I wonder if they might decide to raise the price of electricity instead. "they" will figure out a way.

  6. A41202813GMAIL
    October 24, 2014 at 7:21 pm

    When Something Is Too Good To Be True...

  7. reginald bumstead esq.
    October 23, 2014 at 11:34 am

    It's another re-run of the old something for nothing story...believed only by the gullible and ingornant majority.

    • anon
      November 19, 2014 at 10:53 am

      Damn that, ingornant majority!

      • Jimmy
        November 4, 2016 at 7:32 am

        Ingornant majority! Ermahgerd!

  8. anon
    October 23, 2014 at 7:44 am

    when i was at college,anode were + (positive) connections,has magnetic north switched to south also

    • dogphlap
      November 9, 2014 at 8:11 am

      Faraday defined these terms and basically to quote Wikipedia "A cathode is the electrode from which a conventional current leaves a polarized electrical device." The anode is the opposite of that. So a device that provides current has a negative anode while a device that consumes current has a positive anode. I know it sounds nuts but that is the way Faraday defined these electrodes and nothing has changed since then. Best regards.

    • scientistwannabe
      December 26, 2014 at 10:28 pm

      Cathode is an electrode that, in effect, oxidizes the anode or absorbs the electrons. During discharge, the positive electrode of a voltaic cell is the cathode. When charging, that reverses and the negative electrode of the cell is the cathode. The same principle applies to anode.

  9. Maryon Jeane
    October 23, 2014 at 7:25 am

    All very true, Christopher - I see what you mean.

    I see that my comment read slightly ambiguously and actually I all the items I mentioned, except for the Smart Car of course, are running on the new Li-On batteries (18 and 22V), and very good they are too. However there is still that 'Man in the White Suit' effect, and I know that decent battery technology, for example, has been developed and discussed for a very, very long time by all sorts of interesting people who have been studiously ignored for one commercial reason and another.

    Still, we live in hope - with a hearty dose of cynisicm on the side...

  10. Maryon Jeane
    October 22, 2014 at 1:37 am

    My mobile computers, my mobile phone (not a smartphone because I want a decent battery life when I'm out and about), my electric bike, my vacuum cleaners, my DIY tools, my gardening tools - and yes, the Smart Car will be upgraded to electric just as soon as a decent battery technology is adopted.

    However - I'm someone who used to get all excited by the Sunday supplements and their promises of 'The Home of the Future' and 'The way we will all be living and working in the future' and I'm still waiting for most of it, decades on. I've also watched 'The Man in the White Suit' and every time Microsoft brings out their 'next generation' of whatever I'm left grinding my teeth at the idiocy of it (you know, redesigning the cupholder instead of the catalytic converter or the transmission...), so it's with a huge dose of cynicism that I'm going to sit here and watch developments...

    • Christopher Wetmore
      October 22, 2014 at 9:18 pm

      Maryon:

      There is truth in what you say. I'm 56, a lifelong (and I mean since I was 7) sci-fi reader...and nobody predicted this.

      Part of it is that most predictions are linear, e.g., a vast improvement without a fundamental breakthrough, because fundamental breakthroughs are nearly impossible to predict. The earliest I can remember anyone predicting anything like the PC & and it's widespread use was the mid-70's. Previous to that, the assumption was always personal terminals.

      Nobody got much of the medical advances right, either.

      As far as these batteries are concerned, I'm a little more hopeful than in most cases. First off, they're an improvement on existing tech, not a radical breakthrough. Second, they can be used, if I understand this right, with existing stuff pretty easily. You're not going to have to build or even heavily modify an existing plant to use this.

      The financial end-the cost of upgrading-seems reasonable, too. None of this stuff is too exotic.

      And incidentally, the current Li-On batteries are a big improvement over the old ones!

  11. Dany Bouffard
    October 21, 2014 at 10:41 pm

    The problem with licensing it to a company is that the company will probably never produce them, cause it would cost them money, since they would not sell as mayn batterues. They will simply buy the invention to make sure it does not get used.

  12. DonGateley
    October 21, 2014 at 7:37 pm

    Oh, are Chen and Yazami going to be wealthy. This could pop them right to the top and deservedly so IMHO. New financial methods might need be developed in order to handle their income stream. :-)

    • Ann Ominous
      October 23, 2014 at 10:47 am

      New financial methods already need to be developed in order to handle everyone's income streams, but that's getting somewhat off topic.

  13. Brian
    October 21, 2014 at 5:32 pm

    My laptop and phone are the two places I'd most like to have this (I don't own an electric car, but if I did that would surely be the first place I'd want better batteries).

    However, I also agree with Anonymous, there are lots of announcements about the next great battery technology, but they never seem to make it for one reason or another. I'll get excited about this when a major manufacturer, like Apple or Lenovo, starts shipping products using it.

  14. Anonymous
    October 21, 2014 at 3:27 pm

    There are a lot of these miracle batteries but none of them ever hit the market because of different restrictions. Ill get exited if and only if this actually makes it

    • Kevin M.
      October 23, 2014 at 2:43 pm

      I was thinking the same thing and still wonder what happened to the carburetor that proved it could increase the gas mileage of a vehicle to around 80mpg. Some big corp is going to suck this patented up and shove it in a deep dark hole never to be seen again. We are not a society designed to improve the quality of our lives, we are a society to help the greedy among us to get richer and more powerful!

  15. chma
    October 21, 2014 at 3:02 pm

    When I was in school, the negative terminal used to be the cathode.

    • Brad Brzezinski
      October 23, 2014 at 1:37 pm

      You must have gone to a cheap school!

      :-) Good catch.

    • dogphlap
      November 9, 2014 at 8:01 am

      Sorry but in this case the negative terminal is the anode.
      I know it's very confusing but in cells it is that way because of the way Faraday defined those terms. In most other cases the anode is indeed the positive electrode.
      Best regards.

  16. Michael Scoates
    October 21, 2014 at 12:22 pm

    As a console gamer always having to swap out wireless headsets and controllers these new batteries would be a boon, fingers crossed they can be worked into the next console cycle in around 5-10 years' time assuming the console manufacturers haven't already locked in their new designs.

    Yeah science! as Jessie Pinkman so eloquently put it.

    • Jason
      October 23, 2014 at 1:50 pm

      even if console makers dont plan to put these in there why wouldnt you still be able to put your own in the fittings? im sure the batteries will be made standardized.

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