30th Dec 2017

‘Air’ batteries can power phones and electric cars for longer

30th Dec 2017

Curated by Ryoichi Tatara, PhD

Electric cars need lighter and faster charging batteries to increase their range, while green energy requires reliable storage to feed the grid. Scientists have found new ways to meet the demand... and have come up with a no-battery phone in the process.

In 10 seconds? Researchers studying electrolytes are closer to offering safer, lighter and more efficient batteries. One solution is to use air for the chemical reaction that produces electricity. (Read the science here)


A battery-free phone? Yes, although currently it resembles a green circuit board and no display. The tech can’t power a modern smartphone yet, but to prove the concept, researchers built a rudimentary device, that is partly powered by vibrations from the voices of the caller and the phone speaker. (Read more here)

Ah, I hate charging mine – tell me more? OK, but don’t get your hopes too high! This minimal phone needs a few microwatts of power. Apart from the soundwaves the phone uses solar power and radio signals emitted from a nearby base station to run. (Read more)

So I still need a phone battery then… Well, yes, but cheer up, great things are happening in research. “Next generation” batteries are being developed to pack a bigger punch. They are becoming lighter by using oxygen from the air. For example, lithium-air batteries could offer 5 to 10 times more power than lithium-ion (Li-ion) ones, used in your current mobile. (Find out more)

Batteries using air? How does that work? The oxygen enters into a chemical reaction with lithium and water in the battery generating energy and lithium peroxide. And, the latest version is now almost as efficient as current Li-ion batteries. However, this is still in the research phase and is waiting to enter the market. (Find out more)

Well, and what do we do until then? Li-ion batteries using solid-state electrolytes (a main component that allows the electricity-generating reaction to occur) are much closer to enter commercial use. Current liquid electrolytes can overheat and ignite – think of some recent cell phones!

Can we make batteries safer? Yes. The solid-state electrolyte that researchers have come up with is much safer and crucially, similarly efficient. These batteries are very resilient, can work in freezing temperatures and be recharged hundreds of thousands of times, making them a very promising alternative. (Read more)

Why would we need batteries to fight climate change?

Phasing out fossil fuels presents its own challenges. Gas, coal and oil stations can be quickly revved up to supply electricity when a demand spike threatens to overload the grid.

Green energy sources, on the other hand can’t be suddenly switched on… obviously because wind can’t be made to blow and clouds can’t be made to float away.

Thus there’s an increasing need for efficient, rechargeable batteries to store energy from wind and solar farms. When more energy is needed in the grid, these batteries can be tapped to meet the increased demand and avoid blackouts.

Psst, Ryoichi distilled 7 research papers to save you 268.5 minutes.

Curated by

Ryoichi Tatara, PhD

Ryoichi is a Postdoctoral Associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, studying the chemistry behind lithium-batteries.

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