Tuesday, August 22, 2017

News on Two Battery Innovations

There's news on two new types of batteries, one close to being a reality and the other a proof of concept.

First, the one that's farther along: Wired magazine recently published an interview with venture capitalist and tech innovator Bill Joy about a battery in development at Ionic Materials. It combines the "advantages of the familiar alkaline batteries we buy at the drugstore (cheap, safe, and reliable) with those of the more expensive, fire-prone lithium batteries in our computers and phones (powerful, rechargeable, and more earth-friendly)."

Batteries until now have required a liquid component, but Ionic's battery replaces that with a solid polymer that can play the role of the liquid. As a bonus, the particular polymer is a fire retardant.

The concept makes it possible to produce rechargeable alkalines and safer, better lithiums. Both, of course, still require mining raw materials and so that's a major downside from an environmental standpoint. But clearly they would be an improvement and would allow the kind of large-scale storage we need to make renewable energy possible at scale. Joy claims the batteries are only two or three years away from general availability.

The other battery innovation I recently heard of is a paper battery that's being researched by Seokheun Choi, an assistant professor at Binghamton University. The paper is coated with bacteria
and folded like origami, which improves the power output. The power comes from the microbes' cellular respiration. Each battery currently only puts out tiny amounts of power, with medical uses as a primary application, but as Choi says, "There may be a way to scale these up in the future." Currently, though, "we are building these to help save lives in rural or war-torn places."

Choi's lab is also working on textile-based batteries.

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