Jelly-filled phone batteries keep up with you

On tap: cheaper, safer, lighter, more powerful lithium ion batteries. The key is a manufacturing process more often associated with food than electronics.

flexible, thin lithium-ion battery
A thin, flexible lithium ion battery like this could give your next phone more staying power. Leeds University

Replace the insides of a lithium ion battery with a jelly-like goo and you get inexpensive, safe, powerful, lightweight batteries that can power everything from cell phones to electric cars.

These solid-state lithium ion batteries are just around the corner. A gel electrolyte from Leeds University in the U.K. is ready for prime time and the university is looking for commercial partners to use the electrolyte for the next generation of portable batteries. Gel electrolytes have been percolating in laboratories around the world for years, and other research outfits, notably NASA, have recently been offering to license out their technologies.

A key advantage of the Leeds electrolyte is the way it's made. It's extruded in continuous sheets like fresh pasta or fruit leather. The result is a thin, flexible battery that can be stacked in layers to make batteries that hold more energy than today's batteries of the same size and weight. Even better, the pasta-like process means batteries that are cheaper to manufacture.

These batteries are also considerably safer than today's lithium ion batteries. The extruded gel, unlike the usual liquid electrolytes found in these batteries, doesn't leak. In fact, a gel battery won't leak even if you nail it to the wall. Leak-proof batteries are a major plus for electric cars.

Other possible uses for these thin, flexible batteries include powering smartcards and storing energy from renewable power sources like solar and wind.

Better smartphone batteries are sorely needed. Video, GPS, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, near-field communications, augmented reality, apps that stay on in the background, apps that phone home every few minutes... It all adds up to a huge drain on today's phone batteries.

Here's hoping batteries with the Leeds electrolyte (or other solid-state lithium ion batteries emerging from the R&D pipeline) come to a smartphone near you soon.

(Via BBC News)

About the author

    Crave freelancer Eric Smalley has written about technology for more than two decades. His freelance credits include Discover, Scientific American, and Wired News. He edits Technology Research News, where he gets to preview the cool technology we'll all be using 10 years from now. Eric is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CBS Interactive. E-mail Eric.

     

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