A team of researchers at Stanford University, along with scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator, have developed a new battery that can “heal” itself.
That’s right. By taking on a mind of its own, this revolutionary technology could, by all means, completely eliminate the need for us consumers to recharge our batteries.
With any success, this battery could also blow the doors off how we view lithium-ion batteries – the leading battery of today – and the increasing market for electric vehicles (EVs).
The one fundamental flaw of today’s battery is its inability to store energy for prolonged periods of time.
Your EVs, cell phones, laptops – all are limited by how much charge their batteries can hold. And that often is how we determine a device’s performance and its usefulness.
All of the gadgets and gizmos we play with and own today are far and above superior to what we had yesterday, but the source for power has done very little to advance. I know I’m lucky if I can get two days’ use out of my cell phone before it needs a charge and becomes utterly useless.
We’ve all been waiting for the evolution of our batteries, and maybe this is it.
Silicon is perhaps the simplest and most promising material for use in a lithium-ion battery today. It is capable of holding a large amount of energy during a battery’s charging process, lengthening its life.
The problem facing silicon is that the electrodes don’t last very long. Once a lithium-ion battery with silicon is charged, the electrodes expand and swell to be bigger than their original size; they shrink down again as electrons are released. Over time, the silicon cracks so much that it loses its ability to store a charge. Thus, our batteries become ineffective.
This got researchers thinking. A team down the hall at Stanford working to develop an artificial electric skin for robots put some ideas into the heads of this battery team and really got the juices flowing.
Researchers began thinking about nature and how in biological organisms, cells that are damaged are capable of healing themselves. It happens spontaneously in nature and allows living things to extend their lifespan.
This fundamental property to the healing process would now become the sought-after feature to the new battery.
The research team began working to achieve a healing process in a silicon electrode using a polymer coating for the electrode (the same being used for artificial electric skin for robots). When the silicon electrode expands, the polymers break because they have weak bonds. Here’s the catch: those same broken bonds attract each other.
As the silicon shrinks like it normally does, the polymer re-forms and pulls it back into its original shape. Thus, it heals the cracks that take place while the battery is in use.
During testing, it was found that silicon electrodes last 10 times longer when coated with the self-healing polymer and are able to repair any cracks within a few hours, according to domain-b.com.
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The next logical question: can this battery be used in conjunction with EVs?
One would like to say yes. Of course, there is still much work to be done, but during testing, the new battery was able to withstand 100 charge cycles – going through 100 percent battery failure and charging back up to full power – without losing any ability to store energy, according to Forbes.
That offers a lot of promise, but it is still out of reach of the team’s goal of 500 cycles for cell phones and 3,000 cycles for an EV.
Still, the progress is undeniable, and from all accounts, this research is full of promise.
This is truly exciting for an EV market that is already growing in popularity around the world. The one problem that still threatens our EVs today is their batteries and the limited range they possess.
But EVs may sooner be destined for popularity with this new battery.
While in theory it sounds like a million bucks – a billion bucks, really – this is still just a battery that sits in a lab, going through the motions of rigorous testing and added research.
It does give us hope that one day we can all throw our phone chargers in the trash – we can hop in our super convenient, earth friendly, cost-efficient EVs and take off without a care in the world – but that’s still just a pipe dream.
The auto industry is going to eat this one up regardless, and who knows, maybe in a few years’ time we might even see it come true. Keep an eye on the EV majors to find out who starts testing this technology first.
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