back to article Boffins bash out bonkers boost for batteries

Laptop and phone batteries could last 100 times longer if boffins at the University of Missouri, in the US, come good on a new honeycomb design for electronics that they say greatly increases battery life between charges. In papers published in two technical journals – Advanced Electronic Materials and Advanced Science – a …

  1. K Silver badge
    Pint

    Good news, everyone!

    Now you can all look forward to a truly mobile gaming laptop.. If only they added Graphene, they could have gotten 1000 hours! (admit it, your read that in the professor Farnsworth's voice!)

    But on a serious note, I do feel there has been weekly news with promises of "improved batteries" for the past 5 years, yet none of them have been put into commercial production (if they have, then we've been duped).

    1. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

      Re: Good news, everyone!

      You're spot on about promises of new battery technology, usually made about results from an initial small scale laboratory demonstration, that, after a glowing announcement in New Scientist, mysteriously vanishes, never to be heard from again. It would be really wonderful if at least one of these efforts resulted in something more substantial than a PhD thesis and, at least sometimes, a newly fledged PhD graduate. But, I'm not holding my breath for this wondrous event because known electro-chemical properties put limitations on future capacity increases.

    2. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Good news, everyone!

      But on a serious note, I do feel there has been weekly news with promises of "improved batteries" for the past 5 years, yet none of them have been put into commercial production (if they have, then we've been duped).

      I'm guessing that the battery makers are happy with things the way they are since they would have a more expensive product with the "new" designs and also probably not be selling as many batteries. The question would be then are they ignoring these new designs or are they buying the patents and burying them?

      1. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

        Re: Good news, everyone!

        @Mark 85

        The question would be then are they ignoring these new designs or are they buying the patents and burying them?

        I suspect neither. As noted in the OP, we get announcements every week about wonderful new battery technology. But most of them would require investment of billions to get them into large scale commercial use - not a problem if you know you can make tens of billions of the next decade or two. But sods law says that six months after you start building the factory someone else will come up with another even better brilliant idea, and will start building their factory etc ad infinitum.

        The problem is there are *too many* great new ideas, all competing with each other, and generally all relying on private investment to make them commercial. Who will invest a couple of billion when they can make more money betting on pork futures or tech-bubble companies? It's only when you get someone super-rich who is willing to throw money at a battery factory (Tesla?) that things ever happen.

    3. Tinslave_the_Barelegged

      Re: Good news, everyone!

      > promises of "improved batteries" for the past 5 years,

      Battery "improvement" patents - the biggest outcome of which is just another blockchain-style greed frenzy

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Good news, everyone!

        "Battery "improvement" patents"

        Tend to be misused:

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patent_encumbrance_of_large_automotive_NiMH_batteries

        The above will explain how NiMH research got stifled by GM/Ford/Chrysler and then ChevronTexaco, despite being arguably safer than LiIon technology.

    4. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

      Re: Good news, everyone!

      And another wonderful new technologogy:

      https://phys.org/news/2018-05-self-assembling-d-battery-seconds.html

      A self-assembling 3D battery, with

      "orders of magnitude higher power density. In other words, you can access the energy in much shorter times than what's usually done with conventional battery architectures."How fast is that? Wiesner said that, due to the dimensions of the battery's elements being shrunk down to the nanoscale, "by the time you put your cable into the socket, in seconds, perhaps even faster, the battery would be charged."

      It's a proof-of-concept, so no, we won't ever see it in production!

      And of course, incredibly fast charging means much larger input power source - fine for pumping a few AmpHours into a phone, not so fine to charge a car in a few minutes!

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Good news, everyone!

        " incredibly fast charging means much larger input power source"

        Yes, but.... The main thing is that faster charging doesn't result in overheated batteries and increasing parasitic losses.

        Which in turn means that things like regenerative braking can be made more efficient (especially on heavy vehciles) and you don't need to add in extra stuff like supercapacitors to act as buffers between the batteries and the source/load, which in turn makes the control electronics simpler/cheaper/lighter _and_ means improvements in efficiency/range along with sale price (supercaps have less than 10% the energy density of batteries, which in turn have less than 10% that of gasoline/diesel)

        The question about all these technologies isn't the patent fees, but "how much do they cost to make?" and "how well can they handle an automotive temperature environment?". Some of the most promising Lithium tech (10,000 cycles @ 2% degradation, etc) is formulated around olivine (one of the most common minerals on the planet) but hasn't come to commercial use yet - tellingly noone's talking about charge/discharge rates on that one and it could be these amazingly resiliant batteries are useless for transportation because they can't provide the necessary instantaneous currents.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Good news, everyone!

      There are plenty of better battery designs out there, but your issue is always going to be cost and volumes.

      As pointed out, creating a new battery design is great, but unless they can be mass produced (think thousands per hour), for a price that doesn't break the bank, then it's a no go. However, it may be possible to take a bleeding edge design, tone it down and get something better, but not amazing.

      Take LiPo batteries, they were developed from tech in the 80's starting to be packaged in the 90's but then see how long that to to get into commercially viable products.

      So this is not just around the corner, but maybe 5 or 10 years away before mass production.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Good news, everyone!

        "So this is not just around the corner, but maybe 5 or 10 years away before mass production."

        It seems like it's always going to be 50 years to get a working fusion power plant. Oh, sorry, wrong story. I'm sure you understand my confusion though.

    6. ilmari

      Re: Good news, everyone!

      Hand a laptop or phone manufacturer a battery twice as good as their current batteries, and their next device will have a battery half the size of their previous device. Marketing will be hyping the thin sleek design, and everyone will still be whining about how battery technology isn't keeping up.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Good news, everyone!

        "their next device will have a battery half the size of their previous device."

        I have my suspicion that this has as much to do with limiting the damage if a 12Wh battery does decide to burn up (vs a 40Wh one) as marketing. It was bad enough when Samsung's galaxies were banned from aircraft due to fire risk, imagine them being banned from public transportation altogether.

  2. ross 15

    Diode or Storage

    Sorry, but this article (and maybe the press release, deliberately?) seem to miss the point. Isn't he proposing a more efficient type of diode? This isn't going to store more energy, it's going to cut the amount of energy loss in diodes (and I guess in the charging / discharging circuitry of the cell). I imagine only a small proportion of the energy of the cell is lost as heat in inefficient diodes.

    Am I missing something?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Diode or Storage

      I'm missing the same something...

      1. DropBear Silver badge

        Re: Diode or Storage

        Same here; is this article about batteries, diodes, or just magical handwavium tech? Current batteries are NOT 0.1% efficient, so where the hell is the "1000x" improvement coming from...?

        1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

          Re: Diode or Storage

          Unobtanium. That's what's missing. And maybe a soupcon of expensivium, too.

          What the hell as a diode got to do with a battery (or perhaps a cell)?

          1. PNGuinn
            Mushroom

            Re: Diode or Storage

            "Unobtanium. That's what's missing. And maybe a soupcon of expensivium, too."

            Don't forget bulletproof tinfoilhatium for when the new improved lithiumbombiun goes bangbium!

            There are already enough safety issues around with current technology that make me yearn for the durability and operational safety of nicads.

    2. Inventor of the Marmite Laser Silver badge

      Re: Diode or Storage

      Why is my bullshit detector chiŕping?

    3. Paul 129
      Unhappy

      Re: Diode or Storage

      To me the article reads as more efficient systems with a replacement for a diode. One in which a magnetic field controls the flow of current and is thus much more efficient than a standard diode junction.

      So something like a FET then?

      Slippery footing! Beware the snake Oil!

      1. Chris G Silver badge

        Re: Diode or Storage

        As far as I can figure from the article, the idea is to use electron spin to govern direction instead of a normal diode. How that can achieve a two orders of magnitude improvement can only be down to magic that us muggles can't understand.

        1. PNGuinn
          Holmes

          Re: Diode or Storage @ Chris G

          Quite easily (in theory) if you ignore the energy needed to generate / control the magnetic field?

          And to pressure lubricate the dancing snakes?

          How much snake oil is needed to lubricate the hide of a perfectly smooth spherical elephant?

          That could be seriously expensive - https://www.tradecounterdirect.com/product/monument-tools-snake-oil-1-litre_1-litre.html

  3. asdfasdfasdf2015

    patents are the devil

    didn't they learn anything from nimh?

    1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: patents are the devil

      Why - Did they steal the idea from the rats.

  4. Gene Cash Silver badge

    > Although that finding is based on computer modeling rather than a physical battery

    Wow, even shittier than the usual pie-in-the-sky battery bullshit. At least most people have a working prototype first.

  5. Gene Cash Silver badge

    > a mobile phone that you only have to charge once a week rather than twice a day

    Perfectly possible with TODAY'S technology, if they put a decent size battery in there.

    1. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

      ...and actually HAPPENED with yesterday's technology. When a phone was just a phone...

      1. yoganmahew

        And still possible if you just use your phone for calls and SMS. Data (3/4G), wireless and blue-toothiness are what eats my battery life. Oh and you don't get any calls or SMS... :Z

        1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

          The display is often the biggest killer on battery life on a phone. WiFi, and mobile data, are surprisingly efficient as long as there isn't any connectivity (base mobile station/WiFi router) hopping going on.

    2. Roland6 Silver badge
      Pint

      >Perfectly possible with TODAY'S technology, if they put a decent size battery in there.

      And turned off Location reporting...

      1. AceRimmer1980
        Thumb Up

        Mobe charged once a week

        Ooh, say, like my Nokia E71 from 10 years ago :P

        1. Baynes

          Re: Mobe charged once a week

          My 15 year old Nokia is still working on its original battery and still lasts over a week between recharges. Why downgrade to a modern phone?

    3. Nimby
      Trollface

      a mobile phone that you only have to charge once a week rather than twice a day

      My mobile happily runs all week on a single charge. Of course it's a Nokia C6-01 with the Qt remake of Symbian. Does everything that I personally need in a phone and then some.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: a mobile phone that you only have to charge once a week rather than twice a day

        "Of course it's a Nokia C6-01 with the Qt remake of Symbian."

        You have a phone.

        The rest of us have a high powered pocket computer with always-on network connectivity that happens to make phone calls (but in fact hardly ever does so). And I can remember when _those_ were both bulky and only lasted an hour or less on rechargable batteries. (I'm not referring to Psions here)

  6. Dog Eatdog
    FAIL

    El Reg has screwed up

    The Register is normally good at covering tech stories, but they have screwed up royally here.

    As others have alluded to, this invention is about diodes, not batteries. It lowers the power consumption of any electronic device that uses diodes, and hence lengthens battery life if that device is baterry-powered.

    Look at the press release:

    https://munews.missouri.edu/news-releases/2018/0516-new-device-could-increase-battery-life-of-electronic-devices-by-more-than-a-hundred-fold/

    El Reg missed an important part of the quote therein:

    "Semiconductor diodes and amplifiers, which often are made of silicon or germanium, are key elements in modern electronic devices"

  7. trydk

    Two improvements

    There seem to be two improvements at work here: One is making the batteries hexagonal, thus eliminating most of the wasted space between each battery element, which is about 10% or more with traditional cylindrical elements. The other is a reduction of the losses in the accompanying electronics for charging and load-levelling purposes.

    How these improvements can result in a hundred-fold improvement without changes in chemistry and such is quite baffling — maybe there is some cold fusion involved too?

    1. PNGuinn
      Boffin

      Re: Two improvements

      "maybe there is some cold fusion involved too?"

      Aah, so THAT's why they need to keep the temperature down.

    2. itzman

      Re: Two improvements

      Sorry to disappoint you. Lithium batteries are box shaped

      1. trydk

        Re: Two improvements

        Sorry to correct you but they are normally cylindrical like the ones Tesla's battery packs. Tesla packs the individual cells into box-shaped containers that also implement cooling facilities, which makes use of the space between the cells.

    3. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Two improvements

      "One is making the batteries hexagonal, thus eliminating most of the wasted space between each battery element,"

      Except you can't. Current LiIon tech is either "bag type" (which can have extremely high packaging densities but is vulnerable to damage) or in 18650s and friends is a rolled up 3 layer strip, like an electrolytic capacitor (in a can, for durability)

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AvzhmUPOmRc - for disassembly. Don't try this at home.

  8. Lee D Silver badge

    Oh look a battery technology breakthrough that will double the power of my batteries.

    Can I buy it in the shops? No.

    Will I be able to in ten years time? Probably not.

    Will this be the last such story in that time? Definitely not.

    Honestly, when you can list battery chemistries from memory, and the overall capacity hasn't changed in years, all of these breakthroughs would be welcome but it's quite obvious that NONE of them scale to production.

    Ten years ago I bought a high-power handheld gaming console. It used AA batteries but you needed special, serious ones to make it work for any length of time. They were expensive. I have AA batteries from that time that I paid for a fortune for that were 2800mAh each. That's 2.8Ah. That's a lot of power for a AA.

    What's the most powerful AA format battery I can buy on Amazon today? Search for "High capacity AA battery" sort by Price Highest to Lowest. The top page (excluding the stray D-cells)... 2700mAh. Now, I'm sure there's probably a stupendous capacity one there somewhere, hidden away, but it's not exactly jumping out at me, all these technological advances in the last 10 years.

    Sure, the 2700mAh batteries are much cheaper than my 2800mAh ones were... but such advances have not translated into any more actual power per cubic cm.

    Alkaline. NiCd. NiMH. Li-ion. Li-Po.

    I can't even find a Li-Po AA battery. Only ones that cost £25 each because they are USB rechargeable and they're only 1100mAh.

    Almost every battery paper ever written describes a technology that literally contributes nothing towards the technology of general batteries. Which is why we still use lead-acid in UPS, and why our AA's don't hold any more power than 10 years ago.

  9. horsham_sparky
    FAIL

    Bo-Larks

    speaking as an expert in electronics and power supply design, this makes as much sense to me as an ice skating mongoose that's dancing the bolero.

    I would suggest that the only discovery here is someone has worked out how to make their arse talk..

    now back to my cool, refreshing jar of healthy snake-oil :-)

    1. FlossyThePig

      Re: Bo-Larks

      ...someone has worked out how to make their arse talk...

      I think politicians worked that out before Noah floated by*.

      * thanks to my old chemistry teacher for the Noah expression of time.

  10. Cuddles Silver badge

    It's not about batteries

    As others have noted, the actual claims talk about diodes, not batteries. However, this should not be taken to mean that the authors are talking about diodes used in batteries, and the possibility of reducing parasitic losses and the like. This research has nothing whatsoever to do with batteries at all. When batteries are mentioned, it's purely an example of why this research could be useful - a device using this technology in diodes could have greatly reduced power consumption compared to one with traditional diodes, and hence the battery used in such a device would last longer. They're talking entirely about reducing electronics power use, not about increasing battery capacity.

    Unfortunately this has been mangled in the usual way by media attempts at science reporting to instead make grand claims about new battery technology, when in fact it is nothing to do with batteries at all. Here are some actual quotes from the press release:

    "The material also has significantly less dissipative power compared to a semiconducting diode"

    "new magnetic transistors and amplifiers that dissipate very little power"

    "Less dissipative power in computer processors could also reduce the heat generated in laptop or desktop CPUs"

    Note that there is nothing there about increasing battery capacity or efficiency; it's all about increasing the efficiency of electronics so that you can get more use out of existing batteries.

    1. horsham_sparky

      Re: It's not about batteries

      If that is indeed the case, I would suggest that the authors (as usual for academics) have vastly overstated the potential for improving battery life, given that a large chunk of mobile device power consumption tends to be things like displays and wireless data connections. A doubling of battery life might be realistic, but never the 100 times life as claimed.

      And as others have noted, "discoveries" like this are ten-a-penny.. always many years away from being scaled up into volume, if at all

      I still call Bo-Larks on this, but acknowledge the extreme media garbling of the facts..

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: It's not about batteries

        "a large chunk of mobile device power consumption tends to be things like displays"

        I wonder how many diodes there are in a display and if this is relevant?

        1. onefang Silver badge

          Re: It's not about batteries

          "I wonder how many diodes there are in a display and if this is relevant?"

          Hmm, my smart phone uses OLED, where the D stands for Diode, and has 2560 x 1440 pixels, and each pixel made up of three of these diodes. That's a shit load of diodes. No idea if these new diodes are any good as displays.

  11. Herring` Silver badge

    Energy

    Hmm. Doing a little calculation would suggest that a typical phone battery has about 45kJ (3.7V, 3.4Wh) of energy. If you were able to multiply that by 500, then you'd be talking about a bit more than the energy in a pint of petrol. Walking around with a pint of petrol in your pocket is not recommended.

    1. horsham_sparky

      Re: Energy

      Interesting factoid for you.. a laptop battery has a similar amount of energy stored as a WW2 hand grenade.. I worked it out many moons ago when looking at safety for a medical device, something like 250kJ from memory

    2. PNGuinn
      Go

      Re: Energy

      Hmmmm.

      Personally, I'd far rather walk around with a well capped fullish tin of petrol in my pocketses than one of these new fangled buggers. Petrol, handled properly, is actually pretty safe.

      YMMV. Your new shiny just might not go critical on you.

      1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

        Re: Energy

        Petrol, handled properly, is actually pretty safe.

        Yes, it's the petrol fumes that are particularly explosive. Which is pretty much how a combustion engine works, with a large surface area for the oxidisation of the fuel (very small droplets of fuel = large surface area) producing a lot of heat which expands the gaseous (non-oxygen) content of the explosion (ignition) chamber, thereby generating movement.

        In simple terms, the larger the surface area of the fuel as it burns the more of it is that is burnt in a given time frame and therefore the more efficient the engine. Petrol is not particularly explosive (otherwise it would be a very bad fuel for general use) and it strikes a rather useful balance between being burnable but without "help" is not burnable in a run-away form, as in an explosion. A party trick that I would not advise: pour petrol into a (relatively narrow and non-deep) container, light a match and extinguish it in the petrol. There should be a small flash as the petrol gas that forms over the liquid is burned but as long as the container is not too deep nor not left too long this is very short and the match will be extinguished in the petrol. Do not try this. Certainly not at your own home.

        1. Overflowing Stack

          Re: Energy

          Can't wait to get home and try this. Just at the petrol station now.... Going to get that wide deep container later.

          1. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

            Re: Energy

            I had this sort-of demonstrated long ago and far away - 1977 in Kandahar. I vividly recall seeing a pump attendant filling my Landrover's tank one rather hot, very still afternoon, so it was easy to see the petrol vapour pouring out of the filler, down the vehicle side and dissipating on the pavement. Said pump attendant had a lighted cigarette hanging out of his mouth. Nothing bad happened, but regardless of that I wasn't about to make a fuss because (a) he was armed, (b) I didn't speak Afghani and (c) things may have got interesting if he'd gotten agitated enough to drop the fag.

            1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
              Flame

              Re: Energy

              "so it was easy to see the petrol vapour pouring out of the filler, down the vehicle side and dissipating on the pavement. "

              This is also why you never pour petrol as a "starter" onto your bonfire. The fumes, as you rightly imply, are heavier than air and tend to spread around and away from the site of the proposed bonfire. Coincidently, all around the feet of the person about to light and throw the match.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Energy

                And i was that person...

                However synth skin really makes people not want to stop you at customs...

            2. aregross
              FAIL

              Re: Energy

              A lit cigarette is *not* an open flame, it cannot ignite petrol fumes. I demonstrated that a few times putting out a lit 'fag' in a glass of petrol.

  12. Overflowing Stack

    Hopefully those frickin' sharks can swim for longer and kill more frickin' people

    with frickin' more efficient laser diodes on their frickin' heads.

    Or am I missing something?

  13. DougS Silver badge
    Devil

    Another function for smartphones is coming

    Batteries 100x better would mean phones that are thin enough you can shave with them, so chalk up yet another separate device that will go away and be subsumed into a smartphone's functionality!

  14. itzman

    Bovine Excrement

    Never underestimate the power of carefully worded nonsense.

    Batteries do not use diodes.

    Just one instance of a random assemblage of techno baffle that constitutes this article.

    And a theoretically perfect lithium battery would only be three times better than it is now

  15. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge
    Boffin

    Did TTL and DTL make a comeback?

    I can't think of any current carrying diodes in personal electronics except for the LEDs. Everything is FET based, which doesn't normally pass any current through its diode bits.

  16. Andy1

    Having worked in the battery industry for 11 years, people who know me often say "I read or saw on the news about this great new battery that's been invented, where can I buy it?". I have to explain each time that it's only a theory or perhaps a prototype and the publicity is all about asking for money to develop it. There have been so many such as the one based on piss. Yes, you actually piss on it to make it work. Then there was the one that is the size of a CD case you can start a car from. Oh yes and the dodgy Russian who tried to kid us they could make one out of piezoelectric material which you embed in your shoe and when you walked it recharged. They never came to anything, surprise surprise!!

  17. W.S.Gosset Bronze badge

    Diodes?

    So... does this mean Marvin's terrible pain down his left side will get better, or worse?

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