Stanford Battery Research Seems Positive


Joanne Rhee
Staff Writer

What can you do in one minute? Microwave some cup noodles? Reply to an email? Brush your teeth? How about charge your smartphone to 100 percent?

Yes, you heard right. Researchers at Stanford University are developing a new durable aluminum-ion battery that can charge in under a minute.

If this is successful, it could replace the current lithium-ion and alkaline batteries found in electronics such as smartphones and tablets. The new battery would also make a lot of the problems that occur with the current battery obsolete.

Professor Honjie Dai, lead researcher of the project at Stanford University reported, “We have developed a rechargeable aluminum battery that may replace existing storage devices, such as alkaline batteries, which are bad for the environment, and lithium-ion batteries, which occasionally burst into flames.”

How this current model came about is partly due to luck. Professor Dai explains that the aluminum-ion battery is made up of two electrodes. The negatively charged anode consists of aluminum, and the biggest setback is finding a material to make up the positively charged cathode. Researchers have gone through many trials and errors looking for a compatible material. It wasn’t until recently that researchers at Stanford accidentally stumbled upon graphite and discovered its potential relationship to aluminum.

Aluminum was specifically chosen due to its low cost, high charging capacity, and low flammability. There is a trend among lithium-ion batteries to catch fire and or explode. Dai assures that “our new battery won’t catch fire, even if you drill through it.”

Another advancement of this battery is its “long life.” A normal lithium-ion battery lasts about 1,000 charge cycles. The aluminum prototype developed by the researchers lasts as long as 7,500 charge cycles. This battery is also flexible, allowing it to be folded and bent.

The Precourt Institute for Energy at Stanford also released a video on Youtube demonstrating the battery. At first glance, the aluminum-ion battery resembles a ramen seasoning packet. It’s as thick as cardstock and flat. Ming Gong, a graduate student, demonstrates the battery in use while describing its potential. The demonstrations included lighting a small bulb, charging a phone, and drilling through the battery. For the most part, the voltage of the aluminum-ion battery remained unfazed while being drilled at.

It’s clear how much potential this battery has. This new battery can replace AA and AAA batteries in everyday use, and there are plans to replace smartphone and tablet batteries with the new aluminum one. In fact, Gong even mentioned the possibility of having a bending cell phone. There’s also talk of using these batteries in electrical grids to store renewable energy. Its durability, long life, and ability to rapidly store and release energy makes this battery ideal for the job.

However, the battery is still in its prototype stage, and there are many improvements that can be made. Even though this battery is an improvement, it can produce about only half the amount of voltage a lithium-ion battery produces. So far, the aluminum battery can only operate at two volts. The higher the voltage, the higher the potential energy it has. Lithium-ion batteries range between 1.5 and 3.7 voltages. The aluminum battery doesn’t have enough currents to support a phone, but can support AA and AAA batteries. It has less volts, but can constantly be recharged due to its higher charging cycles. Otherwise, there are no other reported flaws with this battery.

Consumers can expect to see these batteries in stores in the next five to seven years, and even sooner if major investors contribute more money towards research.