Got 60 seconds? That’s how long it could take to charge your ever-growing array of battery-powered gadgets thanks to a new battery from a team of Stanford researchers. And the key to this life-altering technology is one simple metal — aluminum.
Inventors have long thought aluminum could revolutionize the battery market: It's cheap and lightweight, it has a high charge capacity, and it's resistant to flames. The problem was, no one could figure out how to transform those qualities into a working battery, until now. Stanford chemistry professor Hongjie Dai says graphite was the key ingredient in making the battery go. “People have tried different kinds of materials for the cathode," he said in a release from the school. "We accidentally discovered that a simple solution is to use graphite, which is basically carbon.”
Dai’s prototype battery, which has an aluminum anode and graphite cathode inside an electrolyte-filled pouch, withstood a rigorous series of charge-discharge cycles. Even after going from 100 percent to dead 7,500 times, it had no capacity loss. (Lithium ion batteries, which are commonly used in smartphones, lose capacity after just a couple hundred charge cycles.) And then there’s the recharge speed. The 60 seconds Dai says it takes to juice up his battery is an exponential improvement on current batteries.
Still, the aluminum wonder battery has its limitations. Presently, the aluminum battery can only deliver half the voltage of lithium ion batteries. But Dai thinks he can improve that. “Improving the cathode material could eventually increase the voltage and energy fix. Otherwise, our battery has everything else you'd dream that a battery should have: inexpensive electrodes, good safety, high-speed charging, flexibility, and long cycle life. I see this as a new battery in its early days. It's quite exciting," Dai says.
While fast-charging phones may sound like the best use of this technology to the average consumer, it actually holds promise well beyond your pocket. Renewable energy sources will depend on better energy storage if they're going to push out fossil fuels, and Dai believes the aluminum battery could be the future of the power grid. With its ability to charge and discharge thousands of times, an aluminum battery would be ideal for solar panels. This could be the breakthrough battery that will make the green-energy future possible.