The Future Of Energy Storage: 8 Ways Batteries Will Become Lighter, Greener, And Longer-Lasting

Photo courtesy of Wesley Friar via Flickr, modified by Curiousmatic. 

Better batteries are on their way — recently, a special emphasis has been placed on creating better and more efficient batteries using sustainable and innovative technologies.

Here’s 8 solutions researchers are working on that may dramatically change the quality of the batteries powering our everyday lives, and the future.

1. The US Department of Energy wants batteries five times more powerful and five times cheaper in five years — so it’s created a Joint Center for Energy Storage Research.

Begun in 2012 at a cost of $120 million over five years, the project is meant to replicate the environment of the Manhattan Project, which developed the atomic bomb. It involves six national laboratories and five universities, which collaborate to make rapid progress and meaningful advances.

2. Meanwhile, Elon Musk of Tesla Motors is creating an ambitious $5 billion “gigafactory” that aims to drive down battery prices for its electric cars.
Photo courtesy of Steve Jurvetson via Flickr, modified by Curiousmatic.

Slated for completion by 2020, the enormous plant plans to manufacture more lithium-ion batteries than all of the battery factories in the world combined.

US states are squabbling to offer up 500-1000 acres of land for the behemoth battery factory’s location.

3. And speaking of lithium-ion… modern “lio-ion” batteries have been called the fastest growing and most promising battery chemistry.

These low-maintenance, lightweight, rechargeable batteries get better every year, and are used in most notebook computers and smart phones. Scientist have even developed flexible lio-ion batteries that can be stretched by 600%.

But many believe that it is reaching foreseen limits, hence the development of hybrids and other alternatives.

4. One type of alternative are flow batteries, which have rechargeability due to chemical components dissolved in two liquids (ion exchange occurs through a membrane separating them).
Photo courtesy of Eliza Grinnell, SEAS Communications, via Harvard.

Flow batteries are best for large, stationary purposes such as power plants or renewable energy storage of wind or solar. Cheap and sustainable flow batteries have been developed by USC researchers and vanadium companies.

Harvard has also developed an organic rhubarb flow battery that could store wind and energy power, and theoretically be scaled down to power individual homes.

5. Metal-air batteries are another alternative — they use breathable air-electrodes for lighter, longer-lasting power.

Israeli company Phinergy, in partnership with the aluminum giant Alcoa Canada, has developed an electric vehicle (EV) capable of driving over 1,000 miles between charges using a combination of aluminum-air and lithium-ion battery.

That’s over twice as far and and five times lighter than the best Tesla EV.

6. Researchers at Manchester, home of the light and pliable “wonder material” graphene, are exploring different ways to improve batteries as well.
Photo courtesy of Duncan Hull via Flickr.

Their new project ‘Electrochemical Energy Storage with Graphene-Enabled Materials’ is attempting to create smaller and longer-lasting batteries by adding graphene as a component.

The super-light material could make a massive difference in powering wearables and electric cars.

7. But don’t forget supercapacitors.

Graphene is also being used for supercapacitors. Traditionally, these super-charging machines can charge, say, a vehicle in a matter of seconds, but cannot store or maintain the charge for very long.

But with a special porous type of graphene incorporated, a supercapacitor may maintain energy for almost as long as a lithium-ion battery.

8. Lastly, perhaps not all devices may even need batteries.
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Screenshot courtesy of uwsensor via Youtube.

Researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle have made use of ambient backscatter, converting electromagnetic noise in the air — like television broadcasts and cellular signals — into energy that can power communication between devices without needing battery.

Whether the future is powered by rhubarb batteries, stretchy batteries, liquid batteries or none at all, these scientific advancements demonstrate we’re moving in the direction of a drastically better charge.  The question is, which and when?

Originally published on July 2, 2014. 

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