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Weekly Trend: Lithium-Ion Innovations Set to Disrupt Battery Technology

Peter Lougee

Energy Columnist, 1776

The last few years have seen a revolution in the computing power of mobile devices, turning cell phones into 4G LTE computers and enabling similar technology to power a new generation of electric vehicles. There has always been one, glaring, problem with this sudden explosion of Moore’s law, however: battery life. Whether it is the phone in your pocket, or the miles a new electric car battery can go without a recharge, battery life has always been left wanting.

That might be about to change.

First, though, it is important to understand what materials most batteries use. Current lithium-ion batteries rely on a combination of liquids, which release energy when they react and therefore power whatever device the battery is in. The small size of most lithium-ion powered devices limits the volume of liquid that can be placed in such a battery, similarly limiting battery life.

Yet, several advances in lithium-ion technology have been announced recently, which may go a long way toward improving upon those limits. New Electronics reports that researchers from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany has found a way to improve upon the existing lithium-ion formula. This allows for 1.8 lithium ions per formula unit, as opposed to the traditional 1 lithium ion per formula unit—thus nearly doubling battery life. In Britain, Bloomberg writes that car-maker Aston Martin debuted an electric car powered entirely by lithium-sulfur cells, which require no gasoline whatsoever.

As promising as these breakthroughs may be, there is one company that has the potential to make the largest immediate impact on the battery field. MIT Technology Review reports that Michigan-based startup Sakti3 has announced that it has achieved a breakthrough in the manufacturing of lithium-ion batteries that allows them to approximately double the life expectancy between charges. The new process allows for “solid state” lithium-ion batteries to be produced, which eliminated the use of liquid material and creates space for more densely packed reactive materials.

This breakthrough is so promising for mobile technology, that The Guardian writes that U.K.-based Dyson announced that it has invested $15 million in Sakti3, stating that the solid state lithium-ion battery has the potential to “double smartphone battery life and allow electric cars to drive over 600 miles” before needing to recharge.

Though the work of Satki3 may show the most immediate promise based on the Dyson financing, the battery market is ripe for disruption for whomever gets a viable alternative to the current lithium-ion technology to consumers first. Mobile technology continues to expand in its capabilities, but is limited by batteries that require charging multiple times a day. Sooner or later, this last hurdle will be overcome.

Peter Lougee

Energy Columnist, 1776

Peter is a Washington, D.C.-based freelance writer with a Master's Degree in Public Policy from American University. In addition to startups, Peter likes coffee, books and whiskey.