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Holy Grail of the mobile device battery takes a big step closer to reality

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Just imagine not having to charge your smartphone or laptop or tablet for days, weeks, maybe even months.

Nirvana, right? Well nirvana for mobile computing and smartphone users is getting a bit closer thanks to new research on battery efficiency.

Stanford University researchers report a big step has been made in developing the next best generation of batteries, the pure lithium anode, which could solve one of the oldest mobile tech challenge facing consumers: the frustration of recharging.

In a paper published in the Nature Nanotechnology, the research team says it's closer to determining how to protect lithium and incorporate it into anodes.

"Of all the materials that one might use in an anode, lithium has the greatest potential. Some call it the Holy Grail," said Yi Cui, a professor of Material Science and Engineering and leader of the research team. "It is very lightweight and it has the highest energy density. You get more power per volume and weight, leading to lighter, smaller batteries with more power."

Today's batteries are lithium ion, explain researchers, with the lithium in the electrolyte and not in the anode. Putting the lithium in the anode is the ultimate goal as that would create extreme battery efficiency, say researchers.

"Lithium has major challenges that have made its use in anodes difficult. Many engineers had given up the search, but we found a way to protect the lithium from the problems that have plagued it for so long," said Guangyuan Zheng, a doctoral candidate in Cui's lab and first author of the paper.

The study's abstract notes recent research efforts regarding battery life have focused on high-capacity electrode materials such as lithium metal, silicon and tin as anodes, and sulphur and oxygen as cathodes. But the sweet spot is lithium metal.

"Our results indicate that nanoscale interfacial engineering could be a promising strategy to tackle the intrinsic problems of lithium metal anodes," states the abstract.

In real-life terms the research shows promise the Holy Grail of mobile batteries, for everything from smartphones to electric cars, may be within reach.

"In practical terms, if we can improve the capacity of batteries to, say, four times today's, that would be exciting. You might be able to have cell phone with double or triple the battery life or an electric car with a range of 300 miles that cost only $25,000-competitive with an internal combustion engine getting 40 mpg," said Steven Chu, former U.S. Secretary of Energy and Nobel Laureate and professor at Stanford.

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