Coming soon to our smartphones: Stronger, thinner batteries made of lithium metal

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Smartphones, tablets, and drones: They all currently use more or less the same lithium-ion batteries used in the awkward primitive telephones of the mid-1980s. SolidEnergy, a young startup founded by MIT graduates, is now displaying a new way of making lithium batteries that can offer significantly higher capacity than the existing batteries, and are much thinner in form – and that is not all.

Half as thick as today’s batteries

The new battery developed by SolidEnergy contains an anode that is so thin that the company calls it “almost anode-free.” Instead of the graphite, carbon, or silicon currently used for anodes, the new battery uses a very thin layer of lithium metal with one fifth the thickness of the anodes currently in use. A battery using the new technology can therefore contain more electric ions, and provide a significantly greater energy capacity. In addition to its increased capacity, the dimensions of the new battery will shrink; it will be half as thick as the current corresponding batteries.

At the same time, the technology brought new challenges with it – the new battery needed an operating temperature of greater than 80 degrees Celsius (yikes!) and very few charging cycles. Thankfully they were able to deal with this problem by coating the battery’s lithium metal foil with a liquid, thin electrolyte that could function without heating.

Furthermore, in contrast to other revolutionary battery technologies, such as that of Israeli company StoreDot, SolidEnergy’s solution is based on the manufacturers’ existing equipment and production lines, so the change can be made relatively quickly. According to SolidEnergy, we will see the first batteries using the new technology in smartphones and wearable products already in early 2017: in other words, in a few months.

The next target: Electric cars

Simultaneously with its smartphone battery, the company is also developing batteries for electric cars. SolidEnergy Co-founder Qichao Hu explained that the company’s batteries are likely to bring about a revolution in the sector. “Industry standard is that electric vehicles need to go at least 200 miles on a single charge. We can make the battery half the size and half the weight, and it will travel the same distance, or we can make it the same size and same weight, and now it will go 400 miles on a single charge.”

The company, which started on a small scale in an MIT research laboratory, has already raised $12 million, and now has a factory the size of “a Boeing 747 wingspan.” The batteries’ launch is slated for this November. 

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