How new battery research could change our gadgets

The gel-like electrolyte made of lithium chloride and gallium fluoride that shows promise of improving batteries. Credit: Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology

Imagine a world where your phone, laptop, or even electric car doesn’t just suddenly die on you. Where waiting forever for your devices to recharge is a thing of the past.

That’s what scientists at the Florida State University’s National High Magnetic Field Laboratory are working towards with their latest battery research.

Their discoveries, detailed in the journal Science Advances, could lead to a new era of batteries that are not only safer but last longer and charge quicker.

For the past 30 years, the gadgets we use every day have been powered by lithium-ion batteries. These batteries use a liquid to move energy back and forth, which works well enough but has some big drawbacks.

They can catch fire if they’re damaged or get too hot, and over time, they just don’t hold a charge as well as they used to. Plus, they make things like electric cars more expensive because of their limited range and the fear of running out of power.

The researchers at FSU are exploring a game-changing solution: solid-state batteries. Unlike the liquid-based ones we currently rely on, solid-state batteries use a solid material to move energy.

This change could mean batteries that are safer, since they’re less likely to catch fire, and can store more energy, meaning your devices could last much longer on a single charge.

Erica Truong, a doctoral student at FSU, explains that the devices we love – from smartphones to tablets – could benefit from solid-state batteries by having a longer lifespan before needing a recharge or a replacement.

However, despite these advantages, solid-state batteries aren’t in all our gadgets yet because they’re tricky and expensive to make in big quantities.

The FSU team, including Truong and chemistry professor Yan-Yan Hu, is on a mission to make these next-generation batteries more practical and affordable. Their latest study focuses on a new type of solid electrolyte. Think of the electrolyte as the battery’s middleman, helping energy flow from one end of the battery to the other. This flow is what keeps your phone running when it’s unplugged and allows it to recharge.

They’re studying a specific mix of materials, lithium chloride and gallium fluoride, which together create a special kind of electrolyte that’s not quite solid but more like clay. This material helps lithium ions move more freely and quickly, making the battery charge faster and last longer. The team found that when chlorine and fluorine from the electrolyte cluster together, it loosens up the lithium ions, speeding them on their way.

This breakthrough, revealed through the use of advanced technology like the MagLab’s solid-state Nuclear Magnetic Resonance systems, means we could see batteries charging quicker and lasting longer in the near future.

The idea of “charge clustering” might sound complex, but the takeaway is simple: it could lead to better batteries for everything from your earbuds to your electric vehicle. This research is a step toward gadgets that keep up with us longer, making our lives a little easier and a lot more connected.

Source: Florida State University.