Better SmartPhone Batteries Coming Soon?

Here’s the good news: Researchers at MIT are building a better battery for smartphones, tablets, electric cars, laptops…even missile guidance systems (don’t tell North Korea!). These new smartphone batteries will charge almost instantly and could potentially last for weeks, or even longer, on a single charge. When was the last time your cell phone battery lasted three days without plugging in?

5 minutes after charging.

I know, it sounds too good to be true. These days, you just hope for a phone battery that will get you through the day. If yours doesn’t, you get used to carrying a spare battery or keeping a second charger in your car. Because even though batteries continue to improve, they just can’t keep up with the growing power consumption of smartphones. All the bells and whistles we can’t live without add up to leech batteries dry. As if to prove that point, Nokia used MWC 2013 to launch a “retro” phone that only has basic functionality (calling, SMS, and FM radio), but can last a whole month without charging.

MIT’s Professor Joel E. Schindall wants to make that kind of battery life a reality for even the most advanced smartphone. His revolutionary idea combines ultracapacitor technology with carbon nanotubes to create a potent “synthetic battery.” Ultracapacitors are not a new technology, but their limited energy storage capacity has kept them from being a viable alternative—an equivalent battery can be much smaller. “I’m intrigued with the idea of using nanotechnology to transform ‘discarded’ technologies into the technology of choice,” says Professor Schindall.

Ultracapacitors have the advantage of not relying on chemical reactions. They can transfer energy rapidly, are immune to temperature shifts, and can be recharged hundreds of thousands of times. Part of what limits them, however, is activated carbon—think of it as a sponge, with irregular pores, while a “forest” of carbon nanotubes would draw energy the way a paintbrush sucks up paint.


Nanotubes and paintbrushes: indistinguishable.
Even we don’t know which is which.

Schindall’s team has already succeeded in devising a technique for growing the nanotube forests on aluminum electrodes, and expects to have a working prototype within months. Now, for the bad news: these smartphone batteries won’t be commercially available for 5-10 years, so we’ll all have to hang onto our crummy, short-lived, dinosaur batteries for the foreseeable future.

How long does your battery last, and what would you do to get a better one?

photo credit: Tom Raftery via photopin cc
photo credit: jennifer l. via photopin cc
photo credit: EMSL via photopin cc


Brent Urmey is an avid reader and writer on a variety of subjects, including social media, SEO, the Wireless industry, and life in Lancaster County, PA. He is a graduate of Drexel University and a survivor of the 2012 Mayan Apocalypse. You can connect with Brent on Google +.