Annoyed by how often your cellphone needs recharging?
A team that includes former Energy secretary
Their work is part of an intensifying push to build a better battery -- not only for portable electronics but also for storing solar and wind power for times when the sun doesn't shine and the wind doesn't blow. Universities, start-ups and big companies are trying new materials, such as vanadium, or tweaking the lithium-ion battery that
Today's lithium batteries only have lithium in the electrolyte, which is one of three basic parts of a battery. The electrolyte provides electrons, while the anode discharges them and the cathode receives them.
The solution? Cui's lab has built a honeycomb-like microscopic layer -- called "nanospheres" -- that creates a flexible non-reactive film to protect the unstable lithium. It describes the work in a study published this week in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.
The layer improves battery efficiency. To become commercially viable, batteries generally need to put back 99.9% of the lithium lost in use during recharging. Previous anodes of unprotected lithium got about 96% efficiency, but Cui says his version is approaching 99.6%, and he expects it can reach 99.9% in two years.
Some experts are skeptical.
"It's not clear he has achieved that goal with a sufficiently cheap process," says Goodenough, now a 92-year-old professor of materials science and engineering at the
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