Author(s): Raghu Gopal
A key point of frustration among smartphone users these days is battery life. Devices are filled with more sensors and antennas than ever before, constantly draining the battery and driving users toward portable power packs and electric wall outlets. When a potential new battery technology comes along, we take notice.
A start-up called SolidEnergy Systems, a spin-off from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, promises to double the battery life of lithium-ion batteries. The company says it has developed a new design for a safe, rechargeable lithium metal battery, potentially revolutionizing energy storage for devices such as smartphones, wearables and drones.
We've been following the potential of several new technologies and have posted several blogs about battery developments (see The Battery That Could Last a Lifetime), but the challenges of bringing chemical experiments out of labs and into consumer products are often too difficult to overcome. But things might be different this time as the technology from SolidEnergy could be used in drones later in 2016.
According to SolidEnergy's CEO, Qichao Hu, the new batteries will have twice the energy density of current lithium-ion batteries, so devices such as smartphones could have double the power or have a battery that's half the size. Or somewhere in between.
SolidEnergy's batteries use lithium metal foil anodes, unlike traditional lithium-ion batteries, which use graphite. The metal foil anode is only 20 percent the thickness of today's graphite anodes, allowing batteries to fit more power into a smaller design. In 2015, SolidEnergy demonstrated the first-ever working prototype of a rechargeable lithium metal smartphone battery that earned the company more than $12 million from investors. At half the size of a lithium-ion battery used in an iPhone 6, it offers 2.0 amp hours, compared with the lithium-ion battery's 1.8 amp hours.
SolidEnergy says these batteries can be manufactured using existing lithium-ion battery equipment, so, if the technology proves itself on the market, the company could scale it up quickly. It could also help take down the barriers to entry for companies interested in licensing SolidEnergy's technology.
The company has an enterprise customer that will use its batteries in drones later in 2016, but batteries for smartphones and wearables will be out in 2017. Moore's Law has been facing up against the rules of chemistry during the past decade, causing a pain point in mobile living. As the smartphone market reaches saturation and maturity, it's in need of an energy boost. This is one to follow.