As smartphone technology continues to progress, the issue of battery life has emerged as a major roadblock. Mobile phones are increasingly being used by to perform business tasks previously carried out by computers, ranging from basic accountancy to video communication; often on the go. This has created demand for longer battery life and faster recharge times, but current lithium-ion batteries have almost reached the limits of what they are capable of.
However, a solution may now be on the horizon, thanks to a team of scientists at Stanford University, who have developed a high-performance aluminium-ion battery prototype. The new battery is long-lasting, flexible, has environmental benefits and, most impressively of all, can be fully charged from flat in less than 60 seconds.
Advantages of Aluminium
The aluminium battery was developed by a group of students, led by the university’s chemistry professor, Hongjie Dai, and the team’s findings were published in the 6th April edition of the Nature publication. Made from aluminium-ion, with a graphite cathode, the prototype’s power was discovered by accident, according to Dai.
Nevertheless, the team found that the materials came together to create a durable power source, which offers excellent battery life, rapid recharge times and can withstand up to 7,500 charging cycles, compared to the 1,000 charging cycles managed by a lithium-ion battery. Moreover, it can be bent and folded, offering advantages for developers experimenting with flexible and curved smartphone designs.
When it comes to battery technology, aluminium-ion batteries clearly offer a number of benefits, although there are various alternative technologies also hoping to provide the solution to our woes. For example, by making the electrodes out of nanotubes, lithium-ion batteries can be improved, resulting in faster recharge times. Unfortunately however, the technology results in similar energy density and battery life as existing batteries.
Sulphur batteries offer far superior battery life, lasting twice as long, but recharge times are relatively slow, their chemistry is volatile and the development of sulphur cells small enough for portable devices is still years away. For this reason, the aluminium battery seems well-placed to lead the charge in next generation battery technology.
However, the prototype aluminium-ion battery does still present one key problem, which needs to be resolved before it can become a genuine option for use with commercial electronics. At present, it is able to produce a power of just 2-volts – significantly short of the 3.6-volts offered by the average lithium-ion battery.
“I see this as a new battery in its early days. Improving the cathode material could eventually increase the voltage and energy density,” said one of the authors, Ming Gong. “Otherwise, our battery has everything else you’d dream that a battery should have: inexpensive electrodes, good safety, high-speed charging, flexibility and long cycle life.”