Harnessing electricity was a major leap forward for the human race, but for a long time, the only way we could get it from the point of generation to the electronic device was to use wires. In some cases, really long wires. While the electrification of homes and businesses was worth it, everyone knew that the use of wires to transmit power put a definite limit on what we could do with it.
It wasn’t too long before the novelty of wired electricity wore off, and inventors started looking for a way to generate and store power in a wireless container. In 1800, Alexander Volta first developed plans for a device that resembled the modern battery. That battery was made by piling up layers of silver, paper or cloth soaked in salt, and zinc. Many triple layers were assembled into a tall pile, without paper or cloth between zinc and silver, until the desired voltage was reached. Unfortunately, the Voltaic Pile wan’t very good at delivering currents for long periods of time, and what good is a battery if it’s always dying?
Over the next 160 years or so, multiple innovators and companies would make improvements on Volta’s design. Today, batteries are small, affordable, rechargeable, and have become a common power source for many household and industrial applications. With batteries, we’re free to enjoy the benefits of electronic devices without the inconvenience (and danger) of wires. But like all energy-related technologies, the battery is still evolving. In fact, the batteries that our great-grandchildren used might not look anything like the dense cylinders we use today.
Here are four of the most promising battery concepts we’ve come across lately. All are rechargeable, super efficient methods for storing and distributing energy that are likely to be used in the future. Let us know which one you think has the most potential for mainstream use!
1. Paint-On Lithium-Ion Battery
Researchers at Rice University have developed a lithium-ion battery that can be spray-painted on virtually any surface. They broke down all the elements of a rechargeable battery and then incorporated them into different liquid “paints.” The liquids are then sprayed onto surfaces in a strategic pattern. In the first experiment, nine bathroom tile-based batteries were sprayed and connected in parallel. The batteries powered a set of light-emitting diodes that spelled out “RICE” for six hours at a steady 2.4 volts. The researchers hope to someday combine the paintable batteries with recently reported paintable solar cells to create an energy-harvesting combination that would be hard to beat.
2. Tennis Court-Sized Redox Flow Batteries
We generally think of a battery as something that fits in the palm of our hands, but technically any device that can store and dispense energy is a battery. Even if that device is bigger than our bedroom. For the past year or so, scientists have been working on large-scale energy storage systems called redox flow batteries, which are basically huge tanks of flowing electrolytes. As ZDNet’s Chris Jablonski writes, “Researchers from several Fraunhofer Institutes are working jointly to develop these scalable fluid batteries with a goal of one day building a handball-court-sized battery installation with a capacity of 20 MWh – enough energy to provide power to roughly 2,000 households through a long winter’s night or an overcast day.”