Most of your devices, like mobile phones, laptops and cameras, run off rechargeable lithium ion batteries. Bigger lithium ion batteries are also powering electric cars and storing energy from solar power, like Tesla's planned "world's biggest battery" in South Australia. Lithium, being the lightest metal, is very attractive for batteries because it can store the highest amount of charge by weight, giving it a much higher energy density compared to nickel batteries or the packet of AAs you find in the supermarkets.
Airlines are particularly worried about this in case a laptop catches fire in your checked-in luggage.
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This means the battery can store more charge in the same physical size. Lithium ion batteries can only be recharged so many times before they start to lose capacity. After about three years you'll probably find your phone doesn't last as long as it used to. With lithium ion batteries susceptible to bursting into flames remember the Samsung Note 7? Work is being done on solid-state batteries — they contain a solid electrolyte, instead of a flammable liquid.
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This type of battery can theoretically hold more than 40 times the charge as a lithium ion battery the same weight. As the name implies, lithium-air batteries draw in oxygen from the air. This causes a reaction in the lithium that discharges energy. Professor Harry Hoster, the director of Energy Lancaster at Lancaster University in the UK, agrees that lithium-air is "very promising", but only at laboratory scale so far.
They may always be bulky, yet light. Dr Kerr believes Li-air is more than 10 years away from commercial release and is seen as a "horizon technology". Sulphur is one of the promising elements that scientists are looking to incorporate into a battery alongside lithium. A lithium-sulphur Li-S battery could reach about two to three times the energy density compared to today's lithium ion batteries, Dr Kerr said.
Currently, Li-S batteries lose 20 per cent of their capacity after only cycles , compared to 1, with Li-ion. Longevity is the problem that needs to be solved with these batteries. Dr Kerr believes it could take about five to 10 years of research for these to start replacing the batteries in your devices. There are other types of batteries being researched as well, such as zinc-air which has a high density and is already used in small devices like hearing aids.
But each of these battery technologies still has problems that need to be solved for mainstream use, whether it be longevity, safety or scale of production.
What have we got now?
A sodium-based battery would be perfect for home energy storage or use on the electricity grid due to the low cost, but they won't be great for your phone. That's because sodium is less energy dense than lithium, meaning the battery would have to be much bigger to hold the same charge.
What sodium has going for it is that it is much more abundant on the planet than lithium and the technology could potentially be dropped into the same production lines currently set up to make Li-ion batteries, Dr Kerr said. Professor Hoster said he expected these batteries to enter the market "in the near future". First posted July 22, If you have inside knowledge of a topic in the news, contact the ABC. ABC teams share the story behind the story and insights into the making of digital, TV and radio content. Read about our editorial guiding principles and the enforceable standard our journalists follow.
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What do new batteries hope to give us?
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The Development and Future of Lithium Ion Batteries