October 25, 2013
A New And Better Battery
Just the other day I went and traded in my old cell phone. It was old and was starting to get a little “buggy.” While looking over the selection of new cell phones, the variety of features many of them had were staggering, but the thing that stood out to me the most (and made the most influential impact on my choice of purchase) was the battery life. My old phone had the battery life of about ten minutes, or at least that is how it felt a lot of the time; so being told that some of these newer phones could go as long as three days without needing a charge was a nice selling point. No matter how many incredible features a phone, or any new technology, gets, they will always be limited by battery life. In addition, most modern batteries have numerous other problems associated with them, such as their high cost of production, generating too much heat (another issue my old phone was well familiar with) and being composed of toxic materials that can be difficult to dispose of safely. Research has been going on for some time to try and create a better, more long lasting, battery and we finally may have found one.
Amy Prieto, a chemist at Colorado State University, has been leading one such team to try and make a better battery. The main issues that she and her team have been focusing on, in addition to being safer, cheaper, and more environmentally friendly, have been energy density (how much charge a battery can hold) and power density (how quickly it can recharge). To do this, the team went back to the proverbial drawing board and started from scratch, listing out every material and component they would need in order to make this super-battery a reality. They started by using a copper foam structure that would act as the current collector on the anode side of the battery. Foam is both light and easy to manufacture, especially when compared to modern production materials of lithium batteries. It also increases the surface area of the electrodes by being a three-dimensional structure rather than a flat plane, which serves to improve energy and power density. The team has also electroplated the anode, which they made from a material called copper antimonide, which then serves as an electrode for an electrochemical polymerization reaction that deposits the battery’s solid electrolyte. Lastly, the empty space inside of the porous foam is filled with a slurry that dries to form the cathode side of the battery, which an aluminum mesh collects the currents from.
So, how do these new batteries stand against those we already have? Manufacturing costs will be reduced by as much as half, the charge should last up to ten times longer, and charge up to five times faster. They will also have lower risk of fire and only water-based, non-toxic chemistry was used in the creation of the battery, leaving a much lower environmental fingerprint. All in all, it has lived up to every expectation and more. Still in the early prototype phase, the team hopes to have a working version of their improved battery within the year.