Scientists at Northwestern University announced new technology for batteries that could last 10 times as long and charge 10 times as fast as they do today. What would it be like to charge your laptop from empty to full in 15 minutes?
For years now, batteries have been the weak link in most consumer electronics. Take smart phones, for example. You can stream video in HD over a fast 4G data connection, but you won’t be able to do it for long without plugging in. The blazing multi-core chips that allow laptops to multitask effectively also drain their batteries in just a few hours under heavy use. But scientists at Northwestern University in Chicago announced a breakthrough last week that could result in lithium-ion batteries (the kind found in most rechargeable gadgets) with a 10-fold increase in both battery life and charging speed.
Just to put that in perspective, imagine being able to use your smart phone for a solid week without getting a low-battery warning – and then being able to charge it up again in just minutes. The technology is still a long way from mass production, but BBC News quotes one scientist from the team as saying that these new batteries could hit the market in three to five years.
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How does it work? Well, lithium-ion batteries consist of layers upon layers of graphene, sheets of carbon atoms just one atom thick. Lithium ions occupy the space between these layers, and creep from layer to layer as the battery charges or empties. A battery can only hold so many ions in a certain amount of physical space, and speed at which the ions can move from layer to layer limits charging speeds.