New Battery Could Double Flight Time of Drones

SolidEnergy Systems has developed a battery that replace the graphite anode with a high-energy lithium-metal foil that holds more ions to provide more energy.

Photo Caption: SolidEnergy Systems' battery (far right) is twice as energy-dense, yet just as safe and long-lasting as the lithium ion batteries used in consumer electronics. The battery uses a lithium metal foil for an anode, which can hold more ions and is several times thinner and lighter than traditional lithium metal, graphite, carbon, or silicon anodes.(Credit: SolidEnergy Systems)

SolidEnergy Systems, an MIT spinoff, said it’s readying a new anode-free, rechargable lithium metal battery that could helps drones and other consumer electronics last twice as long.

The battery essentially replaces graphite, a common battery anode material, with a thin, high-energy lithium-metal foil that holds more ions to provide more energy.

“With two-times the energy density, we can make a battery half the size, but that still lasts the same amount of time, as a lithium ion battery,” said Qichao Hu, an MIT alumnus who co-invented this battery and is now CEO of SolidEnergy Systems. “Or we can make a battery the same size as a lithium ion battery, but now it will last twice as long.”

The company said some drones will start using this battery in November 2016. “Several customers are using drones and balloons to provide free Internet to the developing world, and to survey for disaster relief,” Hu says. “It’s a very exciting and noble application.” Other potential applications include smartphones and wearables, starting in early 2017, and electric cars in 2018.

Researchers have tried to make rechargeable lithium metal batteries for decades, with no success, Hu said. “It is kind of the holy grail for batteries,” he added. Lithium metal reacts poorly with a battery’s electrolyte - a liquid that conducts ions between the cathode (positive electrode) and the anode (negative electrode). And measures to make the batteries safer usually cost its energy performance.

In late 2012, Hu was gearing up to launch SolidEnergy, when A123 Systems, a well-known MIT spinout developing advanced lithium ion batteries, filed for bankruptcy. The landscape didn’t look good for battery companies. “I didn’t think my company was doomed, I just thought my company would never even get started,” Hu said.

In October 2015, SolidEnergy demoed the first-ever working prototype of a rechargeable lithium metal smartphone battery with double energy density, which earned them more than $12 million from investors. At half the size of the lithium ion battery used in an iPhone 6, it offers 2.0 amp hours, compared with the lithium ion battery’s 1.8 amp hours.

[Source: MIT News]

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Steve Crowe · Steve Crowe is managing editor of Robotics Trends. Steve has been writing about technology since 2008. He lives in Belchertown, MA with his wife and daughter.
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