Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Air-Fueled Battery - A Breakthrough for Mobile Devices?

Greater emphasis on efficiency. Makes components smaller and lighter. Using different elements to reduce heat loss. LCD to LED to OLED. That pretty much sums up the formula tech companies use to get more out of the current antiquated battery technology. Still, a standard laptop lasts about three hours and a 3G smartphone, well, let's not go there. But there is hope on the horizons. Well, a five-year horizon. You'll likely hear a few more things about STAIR - St Andrews Air.

Here are some hard facts about this potential game-changer to the mobile landscape:
  • Funded by the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council to the tune of 1.6 British Pounds. About $2.5 million dollars. The research project is located in University of St. Andrews. In case the British pound didn't give it away, the university is located in the UK.
  • Porous carbon electrode is used in place of the lithium colbalt oxide electrode. Reaction takes place with oxygen in the air.
  • Potentially cheaper than today's traditional battery. Good news right. Read the next point.
  • 10X more lasting than today's battery. Stores T-E-N more charge. That means STAIR powered mobile devices means greater freedom from outlets, careful rationing of battery power.
  • In a few years, we may be talking about standby time in weeks instead of days. We may be talking in terms of tens of hours of heavy usage rather than 4, 5, or even 8 hours. "Five to ten" times the storage potential is what they are looking at. Even at 5 times and not 10, I'll take it.
  • Potential storage solution for renewable energy sources like solar and wind.
  • The research project will end in 2011 and a min of 5 years before commercial use.
  • From press release: Energy storage is limited by the lithium cobalt oxide electrode (0.5 Li/Co, 130 mAhg-1). The University of St Andrews design replaces the lithium cobalt oxide electrode with a porous carbon electrode and allows Li+ and e- in the cell to react with oxygen from the air.
  • From press release: Initial results from the project found a capacity to weight ratio of 1,000 milli-amp / hours per gram of carbon (mA/hours/g), while recent work has obtained results of up to 4,000 mA/hours/g. Although the two designs work very differently, this equates to an eight-fold increase compared to a standard cobalt oxide battery found in a mobile phone.
As usual, let's not get ahead of ourselves. We are positively excited but we've been bit before in the the past. Promises that turn out to be nothing more than voodoo science. Cold fusion, methanol, fuel cells, matter-antimatter converters. You know what I'm talking about (except for the matter-antimatter thing...). We'll keep an eye on this. Updates as warranted. Source: CNet, EPSRC Press Release

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