A 'holy grail' battery breakthrough could charge your Windows laptop or Xbox controller in 2 minutes, make it last for decades

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What you need to know

  • Lithium-metal anode batteries are considered the "holy grail" of portable storage, owing to their huge potential for storing energy, their affordability, and recyclability when compared to traditional batteries. 
  • The primary problem has always been their reactivity. Lithium-metal anode batteries essentially are a bit explodey
  • Research has been going on for decades to resolve the practicality issues around lithium-metal anode batteries, and a new breakthrough may be the first step to practical applications. 
  • A stable lithium-metal anode battery could charge your Windows laptop in mere minutes, and stave off degradation for thousands of cycles, potentially lasting decades. 

New research published this week might be the first step towards practical applications of lithium-metal anode batteries — considered by many to be the "holy grail" of portable electricity storage. 

Lithium-metal anode batteries sport numerous advantages over today's modern batteries, notably when it comes to recharging, capacity, and longevity across cycles. Batteries and electricity storage is a huge area of research across the globe right now, as its one of the last areas for improvements in consumer tech, but also a huge component of electric vehicles, carbon-zero renewable energy grids, sustainable aviation, and beyond. 

For all the advantages lithium-metal anode batteries have, there is a fairly noteworthy disadvantage — they have a tendency to, well, explode. These batteries are incredibly reactive to water, air, and basically anything, making them wholly unsafe and unpractical for pretty much all applications. That is, potentially, until now. 

New research (via The Independent) emerging from Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) in the United States may have solved at least some of the lithium-metal anode issues, pertaining to general reactivity. 

"Lithium metal anode batteries are considered the holy grail of batteries," said Xin Li, associate professor at SEAS, "because they have 10 times the capacity of commercial graphite anodes and could drastically increase the driving distance of electric vehicles. Our research is an important step toward more practical solid state batteries for industrial and commercial applications."

Li used a chocolate truffle analogy to describe how their tech works. Lithium metal is wrapped around silicon particles, "like a hard chocolate shell around a hazelnut core in a chocolate truffle." By placing micron-sized silicon particles inside the battery's anode, Li and the team at SEAS discovered that it mitigates the so-called "plating" effect, which is what contributes to lithium-metal anode battery's unstable nature. As a result, their postage stamp-sized solid state battery prototypes were able to retain 80 per cent of their capacities after over 6,000 cycles. 

Li and his team published their research in Nature this past week, although further exploration of the interactivity between the lithium and their novel silicon solution may be needed before full-blown commercialization. 

Current-gen batteries and energy storage solutions are  a huge bottleneck for all types of tech

Surface Pen

A Surface Pen, modern tech using the same old batteries we've been using for decades.  (Image credit: Future)

Microsoft itself is also quite aggressively researching new battery tech. Just this week, Microsoft published details of its own battery breakthroughs, showcasing how its artificial intelligence models discovered new methods for reducing the amount of lithium needed in today's batteries. 

Solid state battery research remains an intense area for expansion, as most of today's technology is effectively bottle necked by the need to use clunky and awkward battery tech that has barely advanced in decades. Those 2024 AA batteries in your best Xbox controller are barely different from how they were in the 90s. Whether it's electric cars, autonomous robotics, aviation, space exploration, sustainability, renewable energy solutions, or just basic smartphones and laptops and consumer tech — the major bottle necks are always related to energy. 

The first companies to evolve our understanding and quality of energy storage will naturally be set for major windfalls if the tech works, which is why it remains such an intense area of study. It'll be interesting to see where it all goes, as sustainability efforts ramp up across the globe. 

Jez Corden
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden is a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by tea. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his XB2 Podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!