What is a self-healing battery and what is the likelihood that it will be widely adopted?

The new and highly-innovative self-healing battery has caused a whirl of excitement in the tech press. What exactly is involved with a battery that mimics the self-healing powers of nature? What are its advantages and are there any disadvantages?

You’re about to capture on camera your baby girl taking her first steps and your iPhone flashes black and goes dead – you know you should have put it on charge last night. Or the phone call about a recent interview you’ve been waiting for all week finally rings out, you’re about to answer it and your mobile runs out of battery – will your incompetence at not being able to answer your phone cost you the job?  We’ve all been there, the batteries of our phones, cameras and other fancy gadgets running out in the most untimely and inconvenient of situations.

We cannot deny the recent explosion of highly technologically advanced devices such as smartphones and tablets. Accompanying the intense popularity of such gadgets is the race to make batteries more powerful and long-lasting. During recent months, scientists have been focusing their attention on finding a number of new battery technologies which will store more energy, recharge faster, while reducing environmental risk.

Apprehension about whether our favourite devices will last the day could soon be a thing of the past thanks to a team of researchers at Stanford University.

Stanford University and the Department of Energy’s (DOE) SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory have invented the first battery electrode that heals itself. According to the SLAC press release the self-healing battery opens a “new and potentially commercially viable path for making the next generation of lithium ion batteries for electric cars, cell phones and other devices.”

Inspired by the self-healing qualities and longevity of plants

Chao Wang, one of the researchers behind the project says it was the self-healing and survival capabilities of plants that inspired the team to try and develop such a feature in batteries.

“Self-healing is very important for the survival and long lifetimes of animals and plants. We want to incorporate this feature into lithium ion batteries so they will have a long lifetime as well.”

How exactly does the self-healing battery work?

The process of charging silicon electrodes in lithium ion batteries causes them to expand and shrink, which, over time, eventually cracks the silicone. Ultimately these cracks become so severe that the silicon can no longer effectively store electrons. The Stanford team aimed to counter this deterioration by creating a stretchy polymer coating around the electrode. This polymer coating binds the electron and heals the tiny cracks that develop over time.

Extend the life of a battery

So far, the researchers have achieved a reliable lifecycle of around 100 charges. However, it is believed that the self-healing battery should be able to deal with approximately 500 recharges, meaning it will have a much longer lifespan.

Speaking to Wired, Yi Cui, an associate professor at SLAC and Stanford said of the achievements so far.

“That’s still quite a way from the goal of about 500 cycles for cell phones and 3,000 cycles for an electric vehicle, but the promise is there, and from all our data it looks like it’s working,”

Eight times the storage capacity of regular rechargeable lithium-ion batteries

In their current format, the self-healing batteries have about eight times the storage capacity of the carbon anodes used in regular rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. However, if the self-healing polymers are paired with a conventional cathode, the battery would be capable of storing 40% more energy than the storage capacity of current lithium-ion batteries. What’s more, if the self-healing polymers were used with high-capacity cathodes, their overall storage capacity could be doubled or even tripled.

An economically viable option?

Having the ability to soak up lithium ions from battery fluid during the charging process and then release the ions when the battery is operating, silicon is ranked as the most promising contender in the race for more durable batteries. This technology is not however completely void of potential problems and drawbacks. One disadvantage of this innovative battery technology is the cost. Consumers of hardware such as smartphones and tablets are naturally worried that the use of these highly sophisticated batteries will have an impact on the current cost of gadgets. As one reader of Daily Tech posted in response to an article highlighting the capabilities of the self-healing battery:

“That would be nice, but I am sure it isn’t just “pick a # [battery] that fits with peoples’ usage.” They are likely to be getting it as good as it can get with the current “economically viable” tech (meaning, if it would cost an extra $500 to get it [the battery] [to last] from 500 to 730 days, it’s not with it to anyone.”

On paper, a battery that self-heals like living species and gives us access to longer-lasting batteries in our phones, tablets and other gadgets certainly sounds encouraging and attractive. However, in reality this new technological advancement could possibly cause the price of our favourite gadgets to rise. For the budget-conscious tech consumers, this is of course not a desirable option.

Specialising in batteries, rechargeable batteries and battery chargers, BuyaBattery understands the complexities involved in battery technology. BuyaBattery also recognises the consumer demand for long-lasting, more durable batteries that won’t let you down when you need them most.



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