Get ready to waste more time on your phone. An MIT spin-out, SolidEnergy Sytems, has developed a new kind of “anode-free” lithium-metal battery that is smaller and has double the energy capacity of most of the lithium-ion batteries that power today’s smartphones (including Apple’s).
The secret, according to company founder Qichao Hu, is the batteries have very thin, high-energy lithium-metal foil, which holds many more ions than the more widely used graphite. More ions means more energy capacity, and the batteries are twice as energy-dense as lithium-ion batteries. Bonus: they’re also safer and rechargeable.
“With two-times the energy density, we can make a battery half the size, but that still lasts the same amount of time, as a lithium ion battery. Or we can make a battery the same size as a lithium-ion battery, but now it will last twice as long,” Hu told MIT News.
Not only that, but SolidEnergy discovered a way to make them with existing lithium-ion manufacturing machines, which means, unlike many other so-called battery breakthroughs, Hu’s new battery tech could make it into commercial devices relatively soon.
The lithium-metal batteries will be available for drones by November, SolidEnergy says, but the plan is to also make them available for wearables and smartphones in 2017, and then smart cars by 2018. However, even if manufacturers decide to use the new tech, it could be months or years after those dates before devices with the batteries appear.
This is a big deal for a company that, early on, lived in the shadow of another MIT lithium-battery spinout, A123 systems, which filed for bankruptcy in 2012. Even if Hu could figure out how to make a better product, it’d be hard to get backers who weren’t so skeptical.
Weirdly enough, A123’s misfortune allowed Qu to develop his product in the then-abandoned headquarters. And later that year, SolidEnergy Systems won first place at the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition’s Accelerator Contest (though he actually only won $12,000).
Still, developing in A123’s old factory “forced [us] to use materials that can be implemented into the existing manufacturing line,” he told MIT News. “By starting with this real-world manufacturing perspective and building real-world batteries, we were able to understand what materials worked in those processes, and then work backwards to design new materials.”