Out of juice? New battery technology could help smartphones last twice as long

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 October, 2014, 5:14pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 October, 2014, 9:11am

Smartphones that last twice as long before they need to be recharged could soon become reality after a US tech start-up revealed a portable battery with more than double the capacity of those currently on the market.

Run by Chinese-American Qichao Hu, US firm SolidEnergy’s Solid Polymer Ionic Liquid (SPIL) lithium battery’s prototype cells (2Ah) demonstrated a world record 1,337 Wh/L energy density in tests, according to A123 Systems, a battery manufacturing company that also provides test and validation services.

SolidEnergy said the energy capacity per volume is more than twice that of conventional lithium-ion batteries currently used in most portable electronic devices, such as smartphones. Most smartphone batteries on the market have an energy density of less than 600 Wh/L.

Batteries made with SolidEnergy’s technology could therefore potentially last twice as long as current batteries of the same size, or take up only half the room.

“We are hoping to disrupt more than 20 years of domination of the consumer electronics and electronic vehicle industries by traditional li-ion batteries,” Hu, CEO and founder of SolidEnergy, told the South China Morning Post. “We are confident our products could lead the next battery revolution that opens a new era in the next 20 years.”

Hu, named by Forbes as one of the 30 most important innovators in the energy industry aged 30 or under, said the technology can be applied to batteries used in smartphones and smart watches in the near future, and electric cars in the long run. His company aims to commercialise the technology by selling it to battery manufacturers who supply major electronic device makers around the world.

“Theoretically, lithium metal batteries are capable of generating such a high energy density,” said Wang Jiulin, a deputy professor from the school of chemistry and chemical engineering at Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

“The technology, if proved to be successful in adapting to application, will be a great breakthrough from the conventional lithium-ion batteries, whose bottleneck is the degradation of life.

“But the technology still needs to withstand the test of time and its product.”

Hu developed the polymer ionic liquid (PIL) lithium metal battery when he was working in the lab of renowned material chemistry professor Donald Sadoway during his post-graduate studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

He founded SolidEnergy in 2012, shortly after graduation. The company currently has 12 members of staff, including Hu, all researchers.

SolidEnergy has already raised more than US$4.5 million from its first round of venture funding, according to Hu. Its investors include Singapore-based Vertex and Qianyang Investment from Shanghai.

Hu said SolidEnergy plans to start manufacturing the raw materials using the new technology once it concludes the current research phrase. He estimated the company will be capable of producing enough raw materials to produce 10 million standard-sized portable batteries for mobile phones or smart watches by early 2016.