Most of our devices run (not for long enough) on lithium ion batteries. But there could be a new, old kid on the block — in the shape of a solid-state battery that can hold twice the charge as li-ion.
There’s nothing new about the solid-state battery: it simply swaps the liquid electrolyte in conventional lithium-ion batteries for a solid one, bringing a huge increase in the amount of energy a battery can hold. They’re also safer — because it’s the liquid electrolyte in li-ion batteries that’s flammable.
But solid-state batteries have, until now, been prohibitively expensive because of the way they have to be made. They require layers of the solid electrolyte be built up, one at a time — but high-precision is required, because any gaps, anywhere in the electrolyte, would cause a short circuit in the cell, which is a Bad Thing. In turn, cells had to be made slowly, and even then many were rejected.
Now, though, reports Technology Review, Applied Materials, one of the world’s biggest equipment suppliers for the semiconductor and display industries, claims it’s worked out how to make them cheaply. Indeed, it’s developed a new breed of manufacturing tools which perform extremely high-precision deposition at large scales, and they’re already being used for prototyping of new solid-state batteries.
While Applied Materials won’t reveal who its customers for the new machinery are — though it does say that wearables will be a key initial market — the development is incredibly positive. The nature of solid-state batteries means that they can match capacity with a smaller form factor, or be crafted into unusual, and even flexible, shapes. The battery future looks solid, then. [Technology Review]