New Lithium-Air Battery Could Drastically Improve Energy Efficiency in Electric Gadgets

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Most of us know that feeling of sheer panic when that little notification pops up on our phone or computer screen: the dreaded low battery alert. It’s not just you, either; in fact, a recent survey conducted by LG found that 90% of people react in alarm when their phone batteries dip below 20% power. So-called “low battery anxiety” can be a big problem in a world that depends on digital communication. But short of carrying around a portable charger wherever you go or limiting your electronic usage when out and about, is there anything we can do about it?

There might be another solution on the horizon: developing a completely new kind of battery. A U.S.-based team, led by Amin Salehi-Khojin and Larry Curtiss, has developed a new lithium battery concept that could provide far greater energy efficiency than what conventional electronic batteries have been able to provide. Instead of drawing from ions within the battery itself, this new design would allow lithium to react to oxygen drawn from the air. This would require less frequent charging — good news for those who rely on laptops, smartphones, and even electric cars that often run out of juice. In fact, the promising results published in Nature suggest that the battery could boast up to five times more energy density than other batteries offer.

This design has proven difficult to perfect due to how reactive lithium and oxygen are. Without proper calculations, unintentional chemical reactions can lead to by-product buildup and battery degradation. But it looks like the team may have cracked the code. A cathode made of molybdenum disulfate creates a thin layer of lithium peroxide due to the battery’s natural reactions. This layer actually protects the cathode from other unwanted reactions and ensures the battery can continue to function as intended. While molybdenum has been used for countless purposes in the last 200 years, this new battery could have the potential to really boost use of this element.

As Salehi-Khojin explained in the report, “The complete architectural overhaul we performed on this battery by redesigning every part of it helped us enable the reactions we wanted to occur and prevent or block those that would ultimately cause the battery to go dead.”

During testing, the prototype battery created by the team lasted 750 cycles. In real time, this is equivalent to several years of regular use. So not only would consumers not need to charge their devices nearly as often, but they wouldn’t have to sacrifice on device lifespan.

This creation is still in its beginning stages, so tech lovers will have to keep a close watch on further lithium-air battery developments.

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