Aluminum Battery Research Shows 1-Minute Smartphone Charging in Lab

By Todd R. Weiss  |  Posted 2015-04-08 Print this article Print
smartphones, battery charging, laptops, mobile device charging, Stanford University

For smartphone users, the available battery life of their oft-used devices is never quite enough. Smartphones gain more features, more style and thinner cases every year, while their components tend to run harder while seemingly demanding more power. And battery life claims often don't seem to keep up, despite our wildest hopes. You can imagine being halfway through a workday, or out on the town for the evening and the worst scenario pops up—your phones are dead again.

It's enough to make smartphone owners carry spare batteries when possible, while loading up on power storage bricks and plug-in charger cables almost everywhere they go, all to keep their devices running .

But research being done on innovative aluminum storage batteries at Stanford University could help to change all of that in the future. Through trial and error, scientists at Stanford have created high-performance aluminum-ion batteries that offer long-lasting power, fast charging and lower costs than traditional lithium-ion or alkaline batteries, according to an April 6 announcement from the university.

What's more, the new aluminum-ion batteries are safer to store and can be recharged many more times than batteries built using existing technologies, Stanford reported.

"We have developed a rechargeable aluminum battery that may replace existing storage devices, such as alkaline batteries, which are bad for the environment, and lithium-ion batteries, which occasionally burst into flames," Hongjie Dai, a professor of chemistry at Stanford, said in a statement. "Our new battery won't catch fire, even if you drill through it."

While others have experimented with aluminum battery designs in the past, Dai and his colleagues accidentally overcame the past deficiencies seen by others by using graphite for a battery component known as a cathode, which carries a positive charge. A key challenge in past aluminum battery research was to find materials that could produce sufficient voltage after repeated cycles of charging and discharging, according to Stanford.

In its experiments, the researchers placed an aluminum anode (which carries a negative charge) and a graphite cathode, along with an ionic liquid electrolyte, inside a flexible polymer-coated pouch (pictured) that held it all together, the report continued.

The experiments quickly showed safety and performance improvements compared to traditional rechargeable batteries, including "unprecedented charging times" of about one minute with the aluminum prototype, Stanford reported. Previous experiments with aluminum batteries developed at other laboratories usually died after just 100 charge-discharge cycles, but the Stanford batteries hold up fine after more than 7,500 charging cycles without any loss of capacity, the report continued. Typical lithium-ion batteries can be recharged only about 1,000 times.

Dai and his colleagues did not reply to an eWEEK inquiry seeking more details, but their research is truly compelling and intriguing.

Imagine for a moment if smartphone, laptop and tablet users could get truly long battery life—a whole day or more—out of devices that would be equipped with aluminum batteries. For mobile users, it would be ground-breaking, life-changing and long overdue.  

This is certainly work worth watching. |

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