A new, cheap battery that charges in a minute could be the future of cell phones

What’s inside matters.
What’s inside matters.
Image: Reuters/Robert Galbraith
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Scientists at Stanford University have created a battery that in the future could be a workhorse of consumer electronics such as smartphones. The battery, which is made from aluminum and graphite, is flexible, safe, cheap, and fast-charging—prototypes created by the scientists can charge from empty to full in the span of one minute. Results of the researchers’ work was published online April 6 in Nature.

One day, such batteries could pair with flexible screens to power phones that can be folded and charge in a fraction of the time of devices today.

Today, the state of the art in consumer electronic batteries are lithium-ion. But Hongjie Dai, a Stanford chemistry professor who is one of the new study’s authors, said that lithium-ion batteries can be volatile, sometimes presenting a fire hazard; the new aluminum-ion batteries avoid that risk.

They may also have a longer lifespan. Typical lithium-ion batteries can be recharged roughly 1,000 times without losing capacity. While previous aluminum-ion batteries weakened after just 100 or so charges, the battery created by the Stanford researchers didn’t lose capacity even after 7,500 charge cycles. That longevity, combined with the safety of the battery, could one day make it a candidate for energy storage on the electric grid.

It’s important to note that although this is an impressive piece of research, the battery isn’t ready to unseat the lithium-ion variety yet. It only packs about half the voltage (which means you would need more of them to power a device than a higher-voltage lithium ion cell), and has less than one-third the energy density of standard lithium-ion batteries (which makes the battery heavier).

Moreover, it may never be ready. There’s a long history (chronicled by Quartz’s Steve LeVine in his recent book, “The Powerhouse”) of purported battery revolutions that turn out to be busts—science that isn’t reproducible or never makes it to the point that it can be incorporated into actual products.