New Research to Deliver More Efficient Batteries

Scientists from the University of Cambridge have made leaps and bounds with their recent development of a highly efficient lithium-oxygen battery which has the potential to improve the limitations of the standard lithium-ion batteries by more than 10x. According to Clare Grey (Department of chemistry, University of Cambridge) “It is a significant advance for this technology…”

The results published in Sciencemag, detail the processes that take place during the development of this ‘breathing’ battery. In short, the process requires a highly porous (fluffy) carbon electrode graphene which is essentially made up of one-atom-thick sheets of carbon atoms, as well as some other inclusions (which may require a more lengthy explanation); this results in a more stable and efficient performance, (at least compared to previous attempts, which produced let’s just say ‘undesirable’ results).

Electron microscope image showing the efficient charging-discharging cycle of the Lithium-air battery, Photo: Cambridge University
Electron microscope image showing the efficient charging-discharging cycle of the Lithium-air battery, Photo: Cambridge University

The applications of this recent development could mark a turning point with regards to the improvement of the various technologies that surround us all; from the mobile devices, drones, cars and many such technologies that require battery power. Mobile devices in particular would benefit greatly from these lithium-air batteries. In its simplest form, batteries would last considerably longer and would not require too long a charge, so battery deterioration may be a thing of the past. Add this to the 2000 times that its able to be charged and you’ve got one hell of a battery. Also of note, phones could be made considerably smaller, and they would be able to possibly have a much larger capacity than the current flagship battery capacity (ranging from 2500 to 3000mAh).

Much has been said about the hugely positive ramifications of having the lithium-air batteries in electric cars, such as it costing and weighing 20% less than the batteries that are used currently. But I believe the application of this technology has a far more wider-reaching ability in the mobile industry due to it being highly saturated. The research and development departments of Samsung, Apple, Windows and Google come to mind, leaving me to wonder where exactly will this technology lead us n the near future?

As with all positive discoveries, there will always be some limitations and this is no exception. Firstly the metal electrode needs to be protected (without affecting its performance) so that it does not short-circuit. Also it can only be cycled in ‘pure’ oxygen, cutting short suggestions of a simpler casing (a flask is just not going to cut it sadly). The most sombre news however is that researchers have not been entirely positive about a practical battery being released anytime soon and we may have to wait an even longer time before we begin to see a commercialised product.

All in all, this seems to be a much welcomed news as battery capacity vs. size has done its rounds in the internet this year, much of the reaction of consumers being negative. The leaked rumours that suggests that the Apple iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus will have a smaller battery capacity than its predecessor (leading to 5% reduction in power, though many other components such as the chip and also the operating system will be optimised) is one of many examples stipulating that companies now may be leaning towards efficiency over battery capacity, but the question remains, how long will this last? It seems that this can only be answered by the successful delivery of the lithium- air battery. Time will tell.

About Abdullah Nur

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