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New battery breakthrough provides more power

22 June 2019

AMBER and Nokia Bell Labs have teamed up to power future technologies with a new battery design. A new battery design from Finland’s and Ireland’s AMBER (Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research) research centre

Researchers at AMBER, the SFI Centre for Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research and Nokia Bell Labs have today announced the development of a new way to make batteries that are more compact, inexpensive to produce, scaleable for industry, allows for a fast charge and will have 250% higher energy density than anything else currently on the market, without adding to the weight. This makes it a useful and practical power source for drones, electric vehicles, both the consumer and industrial internet of things (IoT), and more.

Researchers at Nokia Bell Labs and Science Foundation Ireland’s AMBER centre had their research into an innovative formula for battery composition published in Nature Energy.

The transition to 5G is expected to herald a new era for IoT, which covers everything from wearable technologies to pervasive sensors and industrial robots. Along with smartphones, drones, electric vehicles and robots, all these connected devices need power – the more compact, lightweight and high-performing, the better.

Professor Valeria Nicolosi, AMBER co-lead Investigator on the project, and Professor of Nanomaterials & Advanced Microscopy at Trinity College Dublin, said: “One of the great benefits of this new type of battery is that we have demonstrated unprecedented performance with a specific type of material known as micro-Silicon (this is the cheapest form of silicon – often the material that is usually discarded as waste material). This battery not only performs at an incredibly high level, but it is also incredibly inexpensive to make, and assembled with materials that are plentiful (i.e. waste materials).”

“By packing more energy into a smaller space, this new battery technology will have a profound impact on 5G and the entire networked world,” said Paul King, one of the lead investigators on the project and a member of the Nokia Bell Labs technical staff.

This new battery technology also has the potential to improve the performance of large-scale energy grids powered by renewable energy. Energy storage technology such as this can help to manage the high fluctuation of energy generated through wind and solar sources.

An additional benefit to this new technology is its potential impact improving battery life in devices from mobile phones to electric cars, and for large-scale power issues associated with renewable energy. Power demands from renewable energy grids have been shown to be greater than the current demands on our energy grids. As the world’s energy supply begins to shift towards that of renewable energy, the question is being asked how we will be able to power these 100% renewable energy grids? It is clear that a large volume of energy storage will be necessary to meet the high demand of these grids. In particular, a new study shows that the energy storage will likely be 25 times higher for a 100% renewable energy grid. This could pose some issues as the need for efficient, fast charging and compact energy storage becomes imperative.

Professor Jonathan Coleman, AMBER co-lead Investigator on the project and Principal Investigator in AMBER and Trinity’s School of Physics, said: “Prior to this study we have only been in a position to demonstrate the high energy capacity of battery anodes (a battery consists of an anode, a cathode and a separator) and we had only looked at one specific type of storage material. This study looks at a range of storage materials and shows a method for making a whole range of lithium storage materials (silicon, graphite, NMC, LTO) work at their maximum capability. These materials consist of both anodes and cathodes. This allowed us to make actual batteries which have record energy storage capabilities.”

The researchers also expect to see applications for this technology on 4G and 5G networks where conventional power may not be available for network equipment, or where emergency backup battery systems are essential to keep systems running.

A patent has been filed to protect this new design and help bring it to the marketplace.

The multidisciplinary research bringing together Nokia Bell Labs’ industry and device knowledge and AMBER’s materials science expertise came about via the Nokia Bell Labs Distinguished Academic Partner Program. For almost a century, Bell Labs has invented some of the foundational technologies that underpin information and communications technology, while AMBER, which is based at Trinity College Dublin, has enabled industry-academic partnerships to develop new materials and devices for ICT, medical devices and industrial technology.

“Our results were achieved through the deeply collaborative mode in which we work, underscoring the value of engaging with AMBER as part of our global research strategy,” said King.

Dr Lorraine Byrne, executive director of AMBER, said: “Bringing scientists together from industry and academia with a common research goal has resulted in a substantial scientific breakthrough. … I look forward to AMBER’s collaboration with Nokia Bell Labs continuing to break new boundaries in science, creating impact for society.”

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AMBER has a strong emphasis on collaboration. Central to AMBER’s research remit are collaborative projects performed with industry partners, and working with academic, industry and wider stakeholder on international and national research programmes.

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