Scientists have pinpointed why batteries lose life over time

Do you find yourself carrying around a charger for your phone, just so you can top up the battery when you see an opportunity? Do you long for the days when your phone would go for two or three days on a single charge? While battery longevity with today's lithium-ion batteries is much better than it was with the old nickel-cadmium and nickel-metal hydride batteries, it's still a pain especially with something like an iPhone that doesn't allow for easy replacement.

Scientists have been working for decades on figuring out why batteries lose their ability to charge fully over time, and now they say they're on the verge of making a breakthrough. Two papers just published by scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy nail down the problem to the way the positive lithium ions move across the anode in the battery, causing irregular degradation of the anode's surface.

Huolin Xin, a materials scientist at Brookhaven Lab's Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN) likens the degradation to the way rust eats away at the metal in a car unevenly. The resulting irregularities on the anode surface then provide a good place for crusty deposits like rock salt to build up on the surface, insulating the electron flow and diminishing capacity.

Having found the source of the problem, the next step is to develop a solution that stops the crusty buildup, making the batteries more resistant to charging ability loss. Dr. Xin says that they are working on an atomic deposition process that will leave a crystallization resistant coating on the anode.

The obvious question is whether this advancement will be welcomed by the cellphone industry. How many iPhone users upgrade to a new phone at the end of their contract, just because their battery no longer lasts very long and is a pain to change?

Dr. Xin says that we're still a few years away from having these improved batteries in our devices. Then we can finally stop carrying around a charger so we can plug in a couple of times during the day.

Brookhaven National Laboratory, via Gizmodo

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