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Power United Kingdom Hardware Science Technology

Polymer Gel Shows Promise For Smaller, Cheaper Batteries 108

Posted by timothy
from the also-in-naturally-sweetened-varieties dept.
TENxOXR writes "The BBC News website is reporting that a team of researchers at the University of Leeds have developed a polymer jelly that could replace the volatile and hazardous liquid electrolyte currently used in most lithium batteries. They hope that their development leads to smaller, cheaper and safer gadgets."
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Polymer Gel Shows Promise For Smaller, Cheaper Batteries

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  • by Dan B. (20610) <slashdot&bryar,com,au> on Monday September 12, 2011 @01:17AM (#37374046) Homepage

    Like all battery tech, it will be patented and will not lead to much change... Although it's a nice thought.

    Battery tech is far too distributed amongst far too many companies for anyone to develop "smaller, cheaper and safer" batteries that are any better than what we have.

    • Battery tech has been steadily improving over the last ten or twenty years though, most people don't see it because the changes are incremental and instead of putting the new higher capacity batteries into phones, they just half the size of the existing batteries.

      • by Guspaz (556486) on Monday September 12, 2011 @04:37AM (#37374758)

        When I was a kid, NiCad was the best rechargeable batteries you'd typically find. They suffered from the memory effect, and maxed out at about 150 Wh/L (well, modern ones do anyhow, according to wikipedia). Nowadays, Panasonic makes a 18650 lithium ion cell that does 620, and they expect to push that to 800 by 2013. A rather hefty improvement!

        • My granddaughter's school had a science fair. One project was to compare batteries and manufacturer's claims.
          The students bought 6 alkaline batteries of all the available brands, including Dollar store and heavily promoted.
          They took some small electric motors (from toys), and breadboarded the motors with a timer.

          The Dollar store batteries lasted less than half the hours of the best cells. Duracell was not the one with the most energy, nor the one with the Bunny (Energizer). The winner was Ray-o-vac, foll

          • by Guspaz (556486)

            Panasonic also now owns Sanyo, which means that Panasonic also makes the Sanyo Eneloop batteries, widely regarded as being the best NiMH batteries on the market.

            Alkaline batteries themselves are falling out of favour, because they don't last nearly as long. Their voltage curve is much steeper than NiMH, and under load they just fall apart. An Eneloop battery will last almost twice as long as an alkaline under high load (and they're rechargable), and lithium batteries in the same form factor (AA or AAA) (whi

            • My uses for batteries are for digital clocks, my electronic thermostats, and a portable radio that has analog tuning. My grandkids use batteries for toys.

              I need the aaa's for my wireless mouse. So, for me personally, a dozen batteries lasts me one year. Nickel Metal Hydrate, or whatever, I look at the cost per milli-watt hour.

              • by Guspaz (556486)

                Right, but when comparing rechargeable batteries and non-rechargeable, the re-use of the rechargeables needs to be taken into account. If you're using few batteries a year, it may not pay off. A pack of four Eneloops goes for about ten bucks, and the same amount of Rayovacs seem to go for about two. The eneloops can be recharged 1500-2000 times (depending on model), but such a large figure may not be relevant if use is only occasional; they'd need to be recharged five times each to pay themselves off.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Ofloo (1378781)
      I assume lithium battery was licensed as well, yet we use it, if there is need for it it will be used. If Iphone can be thinner because of it i doubt that apple will let a patent get in the way of their new design, .. the world is craving for better batteries if they are worth the change, .. you will see the change.
      • I assume lithium battery was licensed as well, yet we use it, if there is need for it it will be used. If Iphone can be thinner because of it i doubt that apple will let a patent get in the way of their new design, .. the world is craving for better batteries if they are worth the change, .. you will see the change.

        Apple will probably make one with rounded corners and re-patent it.

        • I assume lithium battery was licensed as well, yet we use it, if there is need for it it will be used. If Iphone can be thinner because of it i doubt that apple will let a patent get in the way of their new design, .. the world is craving for better batteries if they are worth the change, .. you will see the change.

          Apple will probably make one with rounded corners and re-patent it.

          No, that only works for Copyright. To patent it, they will have to put it in a mobile device.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Like all battery tech, it will be patented and will not lead to much change... Although it's a nice thought.

      Not necessarily true, really. It's a university, and they're usually pretty good about licensing their patents out.

      Battery tech is far too distributed amongst far too many companies for anyone to develop "smaller, cheaper and safer" batteries that are any better than what we have.

      And that's just factually wrong, considering that we've seen steady, if slow, progress of battery capacity over the past decade. 18650 Li-ion cells (the ones used in almost all laptop batteries) have fully doubled in capacity. Yeah, 4 out of 5 "breakthroughs" don't really go anywhere, and the fifth takes a couple years from slashdot/press release to shipping product, but there's still real prog

      • by tragedy (27079)

        At this point though, I don't want batteries to be smaller and lighter as much as I want them to improve in long-term reliability. Seriously, it seems like a laptop battery only goes a few months before it won't carry enough charge for it to be useful.

    • How does this make any sense? Patented and shelved? Why? Let me guess the established battery monopoly wouldn't want to allow this out right?

      Umm why oesnt the established battery monopoly just buy out the patent and produce the battery? The better batteries we have the more electronics will be sold. And they can charge a higher price .. wouldnt you pay extra for more battery life?

      • When oil companies talk about how they're "investing in green technology", it's usually in the form of buying up patents to make sure that electric vehicles don't become too practical.

        In the case of NiMH, which is very robust and economical, it's courtesy of Chevron. Thus electric vehicles currently have to use Li-ion, which has very good energy density, but they're considerably more expensive. It works OK for the small packs in hybrids, but long-range pure electrics will need NiMH to be practical.

        http:// [wikipedia.org]

    • I am not following you.
      1. The patent doesn't stop it from being implemented. It just means for a company that wants to use the technology will need to make an agreement with the patent owner.

      2. Battery technology has been improving. But not by Moors law speed. So compared to computer development batter development seem lagging. But it is progressing. And I would expect it to catch up at the point we reach the limit of Moors law.

      3. My first cellphone back in the late 90s had a battery was about the size and

  • why does it have to be Demolition Man? I [b]HATE[/b] Taco Bell.
  • by spectro (80839) on Monday September 12, 2011 @02:01AM (#37374210) Homepage

    My Hyundai Sonata Hybrid uses Lithium Polymer batteries that according to this article [gm-volt.com] already implement this technology.

    Lithium polymer technology uses a completely different approach. Rather than using a liquid electrolyte, which requires a robust metal casing, lithium polymer batteries use a polymer gel as the electrolyte

    • Also pretty much all apple devices use li polymer batteries.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      You should try reading the article, your car and apple laptops use a solid polymer technology where as this is a polymer jelly

    • Different polymer. The Li-ion Polymers used today are the "solid" batteries the article refers to (as opposed to Liquid Li-ion). A quick Google search would have answered that for you.

      • Except parent didn't ask a question. The least you could infer from parent's post is that the summary isn't very clear on how this technology is new. Polymer gel vs. polymer jelly? If the difference is that one is somehow more liquid and the other is more solid, then that should be explained. There is no need for snide remarks about Google. We all know how to use it but the point is that it shouldn't have to be used for every article just because the submitter can't write a decent summary. /rant
    • My Hyundai Sonata Hybrid uses Lithium Polymer batteries that according to this article [gm-volt.com] already implement this technology.

      It's a completely different technology.
      FTA:

      The Leeds-based researchers are promising that their jelly batteries are as safe as polymer batteries, perform like liquid-filled batteries, but are 10 to 20% the price of either.

      A five to tenfold reduction in the price of batteries sounds pretty significant.

      • by mdielmann (514750)

        A five to tenfold reduction in the price of batteries sounds pretty significant.

        What this means is that one or two companies will sell the batteries for 5 to 10% less (no others will because of the patent restrictions, and the exclusivity agreements of the aforementioned one or two companies), and make a handsome profit. The other likely result is that no one will use it because the royalties the patent holder is asking for are ridiculously high.

    • by ookabooka (731013)

      Model airplanes use LiPO batteries, Lithium Polymer. There must be something I missed in the article here. LiPOs have been around for a while. Just check the wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithium-ion_polymer_battery [wikipedia.org]

  • I remember hearing about a new capacitor technology that used nanoparticles to allow far more power storage and almost instant recharge rates. Better/worse?

    http://www.freepatentsonline.com/7990679.html [freepatentsonline.com]

    • by Osgeld (1900440)

      its just a patent, it might as well be promising to produce gold out of a turd

      maybe in 15 years some lucky company can be sued and our technology will continue to stagnate

      • it might as well be promising to produce gold out of a turd

        I think the bankers have a monopoly of that technology (or maybe it is producing turds from gold?)

    • From what I understand, all the promises of capacity with those things were fairy tales, all they really offer is power and rapid charge rates.
    • by hitmark (640295)

      Let me guess, it uses carbon nanotubes or graphene.

      It is something of a cognitive dissonance between the coolness of tech we could have with nanotubes, and the sadness about how freaking hard they are to mass produce.

      • by khallow (566160)

        It is something of a cognitive dissonance between the coolness of tech we could have with nanotubes, and the sadness about how freaking hard they are to mass produce.

        It's only the traditional "cognitive dissonance" between what we want and reality. There are a variety of ways to cope with this problem. Most don't require treating it as a mental issue.

      • Bingo!

        I remember the old adage of "When something seems too good to be true......"

    • by dkf (304284)

      I remember hearing about a new capacitor technology that used nanoparticles to allow far more power storage and almost instant recharge rates. Better/worse?

      Different purpose. Capacitors (energy stored in electrical potential) are typically used in combination with batteries (energy stored in chemicals); the caps can deal with rapid changes in demand much better, but batteries tend to have much higher overall energy densities and lower leakage currents.

    • by snl2587 (1177409)
      Capacitors have low energy density but very high rate capability. Batteries have much higher energy densities but lower rate capability. The two technologies serve different purposes, but can also complement each other.
  • by Jack Malmostoso (899729) on Monday September 12, 2011 @03:03AM (#37374418)

    Unfortunately, this invention does not replace the liquid electrolyte. The "jelly" is a polymer soaked in the liquid electrolyte, which definitely is immobilized (thus protecting against leaks) but it's probably not fireproof (I could not find a reference to a research article).
    Despite this, it is a step in the right direction: dry polymer electrolytes are a good solution, but nowadays they have a low conductivity (about 100 times lower than the liquid). The solution to this is to run the batteries at higher temperatures (about 80C), but this promotes the fading of the capacity.
    The real solution to the flammability of batteries will come with ceramic solid electrolytes, which are now in their early stages but should become practical in a few years.

    • by vlm (69642)

      Unfortunately, this invention does not replace the liquid electrolyte. The "jelly" is a polymer soaked in the liquid electrolyte, which definitely is immobilized (thus protecting against leaks) but it's probably not fireproof (I could not find a reference to a research article).

      Very much like how a "gel cell" lead acid battery still contains H2SO4 it just won't pour out as fast if the case cracks.

      I have accidentally cracked gel cells in old UPSes, etc. Its just as corrosive as plain battery acid, it merely doesn't pour out as fast.

  • Battery powered cars are 100% clean!!! Zero emissions. Zero pollution.

    • Uh, huh. Sure they are.

      The metals and chemicals for batteries come from the Land of the Mystical, where they magically appear and disappear with no loss or pollution. They require no energy to recycle or dispose of expended chem or metals. They require zero energy to charge; it just magically appears and comes from the Land of the Magic.

      Sure, when wonderful things that are harmless and good for the environment appear, there's no reason to double-check the manufacturing processes or R&D. Wonderful is

      • by ebonum (830686)

        irony.

        if building a hybrid vehicle involves getting the rare earth metals from china where chinese children get cancer and die, it is zero emissions as long as we don't see it.

        mining the rare earth metals used in electronics is a particularly dirty pursuit.

  • There are often articles about batteries getting so much better on ./.

    I'm sceptical though, since batteries just aren't getting any better in real life, I don't know what it is, but despite everyone's more and more dependence on handheld devices, batteries just keep underperforming.

    • by Joce640k (829181)

      That's down to the marketing department. Batteries have got a lot better but the marketers decided you want smaller gadgets and/or bigger screens, not longer battery life.

    • I'm sceptical though, since batteries just aren't getting any better in real life

      Lots of people keep saying this. I wonder if any of you have ever used a battery.

      • Yes I have. And I've had to recharge them often too.

        • Yes I have. And I've had to recharge them often too.

          Quit shorting the terminals with your tongue. The battery and your brain will last longer.

      • by Lumpy (12016)

        Yes they all are using crap rechargeable Li-ions from 10 years ago.

        I bought a new set this past week and they last massively longer than the ones that are only 2 years old and have less than 20 cycles on them.
        The problem is that 99% of all people are ignorant to the proper care of a Li-Ion battery. leaving it dead = destruction. keeping it charged = longer life. I can drain completely a brand new battery and destroy it quickly by leaving it discharged for a month.

        • I can drain completely a brand new battery and destroy it quickly by leaving it discharged for a month.

          This is one of the really annoying things about current tech. Nearly everything is made with a custom cell to maximize battery capacity. So if you have something battery powered that you don't use frequently, you have to plug the stupid thing in (along with dozens of other similar stupid little things) or deal with prematurely dead batteries. This leads to a rat's nest of little wall warts, tiny almost-but-not-quite-standard USB plugs and cables and cheap little plastic battery holders with 90 watt blue

          • by Lumpy (12016)

            Actually my safety kit in my hiking bag is centered around the AA battery. my GPS,GMRS radio, the flashlights, etc all MUST use the AA battery. I carry 4 disposables and 4 rechargeable NICAD's in there.

            Why NiCAD? because they can sit for 30 years in a discharged state and not degrade. the solar charger I have in the pack will charge those 4 in about 3 hours in full sun.

            Old tech wins when it comes to emergency and longevity. I have a pair of Nicad AA rechargeables that I found in the basement that are fr

  • If I am going to get mad and throw my TV remote or Xbox controller at the wall, they won't go very far if the batteries aren't adding a decent bit of weight.
  • I want 2X capacity in the same size. I want what I had with my RAZR phone back in 1999, charge it once a week. unlike the iphone that must be charged daily.
    I want AA batteries that will last a year in Xbox360 controllers between chargings.

    The problem is that much electrical potential will NOT get rid of the "risk". if you short a high capacity battery no matter what it is made of, it will get really hot. they are not going to eliminate the burning battery syndrome. Better QC does that.

    • by vlm (69642)

      The problem is that much electrical potential will NOT get rid of the "risk". if you short a high capacity battery no matter what it is made of, it will get really hot. they are not going to eliminate the burning battery syndrome. Better QC does that.

      Internal resistance depends on the combination of battery chemistry and manufacturing technology. If you don't believe me, try shorting out comparable voltage / capacity ancient carbon zinc AA (good luck getting over a couple hundred mA, ask the model rocket guys from the 80s) vs a brand new Nicad (easily dump 50 amps, at least for a very short while, ask the RC car guys about melting connectors).

      There is no inherent chemical or physical reason why you couldn't design/build a high internal resistance and h

    • by afidel (530433)
      I want what I had with my RAZR phone back in 1999, charge it once a week.

      No, you don't. If you wanted that you'd have it. You apparently want a large, high resolution screen which is readable in direct sunlight and while can play full motion video. No battery technology we have even dreamed of is going to give you a week with that screen. Getting OLED's or LED backlit LCD's low enough in price will help some, but they still will only get you maybe 2 days of runtime. I'm not sure if the iphone gives you t
      • by fnj (64210)

        Which is why I still use my old Sanyo SCP-5150 with the high capacity battery. You're pretty much guaranteed 7 days and up to 14 days if you don't talk like a broken Charlie McCarthy record. No GPS crap. No messaging crap. No internet crap. It's a PHONE, dammit.

        • by afidel (530433)
          That's cool, mine is a phone, a pager, a datebook, an email appliance, a mobile terminal, a podcast reader, and an entertainment device (including functioning as a really advanced remote for my HTPC). I use the phone portion maybe 100-200 minutes a month, the rest of the device I use that much a day.
  • A lot of the comments in this thread touch on the application of these batteries for electric cars. I'm curious, do most of you consider gas mileage when considering your next car? Are you thinking of going hybrid electric to get that gas mileage? My current gasoline car is 10 years old and I've started considering a replacement. I want significantly better mileage but I need the same size or slightly larger car because I have had my 3rd kid in those ten years. I also don't want any of my kids to feel
    • I like the Mazda 5 minivan. Its not the most fuel efficient, and definitely not the most powerful minvan. But you can squeeze 7 people in it, and it gets 22/28 EPA mileage, which isn't bad for what you can haul around in it. There are higher mileage vehicles that haul around only 5 people, but you can fit 5 people and their stuff in the Mazda 5, or haul up to 7 (take 2 friends or grandparents or whatever along with the fam). There isn't a hybrid vehicle that can beat it for what it does at that mileage
    • by c6gunner (950153)

      I also don't want any of my kids to feel like they need to join the military and invade the Middle East to keep my gas tank full.

      Maybe you should educate them better, instead of letting them get pumped full of that "no-blood-for-oil!" propaganda? Maybe you can teach them about Canada.

    • I'm still waiting for an acceptable electric car option, but in the meantime, I've order a CurrenMotor C124 electric scooter for my commute. I'll be posting about my experiences on visforvoltage.org when I get it (hopefully about 7 weeks).
  • here's some advice the lab boys gave me: "Do not get covered in the Polymer Gel." We haven't entirely nailed down what element it is yet, but I'll tell you this: It's a lively one, and it does not like the human skeleton.
  • IMHO, there should be a Manhattan Project/X-prize scale battery development project. All of this green energy generation is intermittent. It's useless without a way to store excess energy. Same goes for the forthcoming smart-meter based energy billing. Without a way to harvest energy in the middle of the night when it's cheaper, the cost of energy to the consumer is just going to go up. I want a box the size of a refrigerator that can power my entire home including heating and cooling for at least 24 h

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