Mobile gadgets have evolved fast but their performance remains limited by their battery life. The technology to power them—Lithium-ion battery—has not changed much for over a decade. While disposable alkaline batteries pose risk to the environment, Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries, widely used in cellphones and laptops, occasionally catch fire. Thankfully, things have started looking up now. To ensure that gadgets are not slowed down by power, researchers are finding alternative materials for batteries. Among all options, aluminium seems to be leading the race.
Stanford University scientists claim to have developed a safer alternative to alkaline and Li-ion batteries. The newly developed rechargeable aluminum battery won’t catch fire even if it’s drilled through—according to Hongjie Dai, a chemistry professor at Stanford. What’s more, this battery can be charged in just a minute, unlike Li-ion batteries that take hours to charge. The battery also scores big in durability, lasting more than 7500 cycles without any loss of capacity compared to a Li-ion battery’s 1000 cycles.
The only drawback with these aluminium batteries is their voltage, which is half that of lithium batteries. However, researchers are hopeful that with the improvement in their cathode material, aluminium batteries will eventually be able to match the voltage and energy density of lithium batteries.
It’s not just Stanford University but commercial players like Fuji Pigment also that are looking up to use of aluminium in batteries. Earlier this year, this Japanese player had unveiled an aluminium-air battery called Alfa that can be recharged simply by topping up with salty or normal water. At 8100 Wh/kg, this battery has 40 times the capacity of lithium-ion (120-200 Wh/kg). On top of that, the battery is claimed to have a lifetime of up to 14 days once fully charged.
Efforts are underway to unleash the power of aluminium for electric cars as well. Israeli company Phinergy is working with US-based aluminium giant Alcoa to develop aluminium-air batteries for electric vehicles. The company claims to have “successfully integrated into an electric vehicle its aluminium-air battery system alongside lithium-ion battery, extending the car’s driving range by more than three times the range of electric vehicles now on the road.”
Given that aluminium is flexible, durable and much cheaper than lithium, it’s time that lithium-ion battery makers reconsider their expansion plans.
Written By: Uma Gupta, Contributing Author for Technology.Org