Never Ending battery
Migrants charge and use their smartphones at a refugee shelter in Berlin, Dec. 8, 2015. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

Researchers at the University of California, Irvine have developed a battery technology that greatly increases its lifespan and could mean never having to replace a battery again.

Typical lithium-ion batteries, used in everything from smartphones to electric cars, see capacity dramatically drop after being recharged between 5,000 and 7,000 times. By utilizing nanowires, which are thousands of times thinner than the width of a human hair, the researchers at UCI were able to create a battery that went through 200,000 recharge cycles without losing any capacity — essentially meaning it would never need to be replaced.

“We started to cycle the devices, and then realized that they weren’t going to die,” Reginald Penner, a lead author of a paper on the research told Popular Science. “We don’t understand the mechanism of that yet.”

Modern batteries almost exclusively use lithium, and over time this lithium corrodes, which results in batteries not being able to hold a charge. While the problem does not affect smartphones as much, which are typically updated every two years, it is a significant problem for laptops and tablets, which are generally used over longer periods.

To overcome this problem, UCI doctoral candidate Mya Le Thai used gold nanowires to store electricity, which she encased in a manganese oxide shell and protected by an electrolyte gel. The interaction of the metal oxide with the gel prevents the nanowires from corroding.

“The coated electrode holds its shape much better, making it a more reliable option,” Thai told the UCI News website. “This research proves that a nanowire-based battery electrode can have a long lifetime and that we can make these kinds of batteries a reality.”

While the development is certainly a positive step towards making longer-lasting batteries, the use of gold, even in miniscule quantities, would likely make commercial development problematic. However, Penner said the gold could be replaced by a more common metal such as nickel if the technology proves to be popular.

The lab at UCI will now work on building fully functioning batteries based on this technology and will seek to understand more about how and why the technology works.