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You can't swing a dead cat these days without hitting a research team claiming to have discovered a new technology or ability that will miraculously enhance battery capabilities as soon as a few quick problems are patched up or some niggling cost factors get fixed. The majority of these announcements splash down and vanish, never to be heard from again -- but a team at Stanford is claiming to have pulled off a scientific coup that really would be a quantum leap over existing battery technology -- and they've done it, supposedly, by solving a very old problem.

Right now, the batteries we refer to as "lithium ion" use lithium in the electrolyte -- the fluid that surrounds the anode and cathode. Electrons flow from the anode into the attached device, then back into the battery via the cathode. The reason we use lithium for the electrolyte fluid but not the anode itself is simple -- lithium anodes tend to expand when they come into contact with their electrolyte solutions. As it expands, it forms tendrils of metal that cause short circuits and destroy the anode's ability to function effectively. This leads to extremely nasty problems -- problems with names like "Thermal runaway" and "Explosion.". Since turning your laptop on shouldn't require a saving throw, lithium anode batteries have had a limited market.

What Steven Chu's team claims to have discovered is a method for using hollow polystyrene nanospheres to isolate the electrolytic solution and the anode.

This barrier layer of carbon isolates the anode and would allow the battery to be charged and discharged repeatedly without risk of explosion. As for why this is important, check out the following graph of energy densities (originally found at Wikipedia).

This graph explains, in one swoop, why we've had such a hard time replacing oil, gas, and coal. The y-axis of the chart shows how much energy is contained within 1L of material (a measure of volume), while the x-axis is the amount of energy in 1kg (2.2lbs) of material (a measure of weight). The latter is sometimes referred to as the specific energy of a material.

Here's the simplest way to understand the chart.  A kilogram of natural gas or methane contains more energy than a kilogram of diesel or gasoline (both in blue) but a liter of methane contains much less energy than either of those fuels. This makes sense -- methane is a gas, and the amount of methane you can stuff into a sports bottle at standard temperature and pressure is quite limited.

Note, meanwhile, that lithium ion batteries are sitting at the absolute bottom of the chart. They don't hold much electrical capacity per unit of volume or per unit of weight. Pure lithium, in contrast, isn't too far off diesel and gasoline.

Unfortunately, it's that same marvelous energy capacity that makes lithium so difficult to work with in consumer products -- but if Chu is correct, and we can build lithium anodes, it would open the doors for batteries 5-6x more dense than current models. Cell phones, at that point, could possibly last days on a single charge, while a car like the Tesla Model S could comfortably make a New York - LA trip without stretching for more than an overnight trickle charge. 

So this is what the Droid Maxx is using, lolz.. In all seriousness this is a huge finding which can be applied in many of the electronics we use today both recreationally and life saving. If it's really expensive, I believe this should go towards medical offices / ambulances that would really need this tech vs cell phone use.


Lithium anodes!!!!!!!!!!! I really just want to be able to use my phone for music and games all day without worrying about it dying. This is great news if it can make it into the Nexus 6. But it won't...


Oil co will buy them out and lock it in there vault


would be great


Boy, I still remember reading a news story from a few years back that said that someone discovered a mouth wash formula that eliminated tooth decay. The way it was described, this miracle mouth wash would target the bacteria that caused tooth decay. So going to see a dentist would quickly lose its appeal if said mouth wash were to hit the shelves. Well... soon after it made headlines, COLGATE bought the patent/formula. Probably to make sure that we still use their tooth paste and keep dentist making millions. In the same way, I fully expect this new discovery to mysteriously disappear from the face of the Earth. Because there is no money to be made by making things more efficient.


We haven't gotten at the full potential yet (pun intended). One gets a battery by stacking up as many ions as possible so that when they flow back from one pole to the other, we get electricity.

How much charge would you have if you moved one gram of electrons a hundred feet leaving the opposite charge behind? The charge would be so huge that the attraction between the 2 poles 100 feet from each other could be measured in TONS.

In other words, there is a huge potential here (pun intended again). If we could just figure out how to move a lot more of the electrons to charge our battery. The electrons are there....we just need to find how to set them up right.


Hi John,

"How much charge would you have if you moved one gram of electrons a

hundred feet leaving the opposite charge behind? The charge would be so

huge that the attraction between the 2 poles 100 feet from each other

could be measured in TONS."

Sorry, I am probably to weak in physics to understand your point. I can understand the potential between two poles and the medium for travel determining electron flow. What does distance have to do with it?



Kudos for the D&D referance.


If researchers would stop patenting ideas just to sell them, instead of releasing them to the world like open source, we would see greater benefits for all. Does Elon Musk ring a bell for anyone? Who know where ‘his’ technology will go from here, and that’s the point. I’m all for people making money and recovering lost R&D capital, but some things are bigger than profits.

Joel H

That's not true. It's just an urban legend that gets passed around from time to time.

1). The bacteria that cause tooth decay are an integral part of your mouth flora. It's not that we can't kill the bacteria -- it's that killing *only* the bad bacteria and leaving the good is effectively impossible (this is why antibiotics give many people GI trouble).

2). Even if we could kill all those bacteria in a treatment, they'd be re-deposited when you ate or drank. Again -- you *need* healthy mouth flora.

3). If you stop and think about it, most of the substances we have that reliably kill high percentages of bacteria are things you really wouldn't want in your mouth at high concentration. Bleach. Ammonia. Really caustic terrible stuff that does Very Bad Things to human tissues.

It's tempting to think that GM bought the magic carburetor that could get 200mpg, or that an evil company sat on magic mouthwash but it's just not true. In most cases, you really wouldn't like the outcome of what happened if you could kill all your mouth flora on an ongoing basis.

Finally: When Listerine was invented, the vast majority of dentists in America had just one function -- they pulled teeth. Without anesthetic. The idea that a company would sit on a perfect mouthwash patent to help out dentistry doesn't track with where our health practices were at when mouthwash was invented.


lol the 200mpg carb! 🙂 I remember that one....

FYI side note... as far as toothpaste, you should NEVER use any toothpaste except plain. No whitening, nothing... just plain.  Most of then can actually remove enamel = no good (also, some mouthwashes claim to replace enamel. This is not possible.)


Sounds like good science to me. I hope that they can turn this into real battery improvement, without reaming the masses at the same time.


imsure they have yawn


@Joel H - Urban legend? LOL You gotta be kidding me. I just found several articles that covered the story. But here's the original one, straight from the horse's mouth:

"A new mouthwash developed by a microbiologist at the UCLA School of Dentistry is highly successful in targeting the harmful Streptococcus mutans bacteria that is the principal cause tooth decay and cavities. 



a recent clinical study, 12 subjects who rinsed just one time with the

experimental mouthwash experienced a nearly complete elimination of the S. mutans

bacteria over the entire four-day testing period. The findings from the

small-scale study are published in the current edition of the

international dental journal Caries Research.



caries, commonly known as tooth decay or cavities, is one of the most

common and costly infectious diseases in the United States, affecting

more than 50 percent of children and the vast majority of adults aged 18

and older. Americans spend more than $70 billion each year on dental

services, with the majority of that amount going toward the treatment of

dental caries.


This new mouthwash is the product

of nearly a decade of research conducted by Wenyuan Shi, chair of the

oral biology section at the UCLA School of Dentistry. Shi developed a

new antimicrobial technology called STAMP (specifically targeted

anti-microbial peptides) with support from Colgate-Palmolive and from

C3-Jian Inc., a company he founded around patent rights he developed at

UCLA; the patents were exclusively licensed by UCLA to C3-Jian. The

mouthwash uses a STAMP known as C16G2.


The human

body is home to millions of different bacteria, some of which cause

diseases such as dental caries but many of which are vital for optimum

health. Most common broad-spectrum antibiotics, like conventional

mouthwash, indiscriminately kill both benign and harmful pathogenic

organisms and only do so for a 12-hour time period.



overuse of broad-spectrum antibiotics can seriously disrupt the body's

normal ecological balance, rendering humans more susceptible to

bacterial, yeast and parasitic infections.



Sm STAMP C16G2 investigational drug, tested in the clinical study, acts

as a sort of "smart bomb," eliminating only the harmful bacteria and

remaining effective for an extended period.



on the success of this limited clinical trial, C3-Jian Inc. has filed a

New Investigational Drug application with the U.S. Food and Drug

Administration, which is expected to begin more extensive clinical

trials in March 2012. If the FDA ultimately approves Sm STAMP C16G2 for

general use, it will be the first such anti–dental caries drug since

fluoride was licensed nearly 60 years ago.



this new antimicrobial technology, we have the prospect of actually

wiping out tooth decay in our lifetime," said Shi, who noted that this

work may lay the foundation for developing additional target-specific

"smart bomb" antimicrobials to combat other diseases.



work conducted by Dr. Shi's laboratory will help transform the concept

of targeted antimicrobial therapy into a reality," said Dr. No-Hee Park,

dean of the UCLA School of Dentistry. "We are proud that UCLA will

become known as the birthplace of this significant treatment



The UCLA School of Dentistry

is dedicated to improving the oral health of the people of California,

the nation and the world through its teaching, research, patient care

and public service initiatives. The school provides education and

training programs that develop leaders in dental education, research,

the profession and the community; conducts research programs that

generate new knowledge, promote oral health and investigate the cause,

prevention, diagnosis and treatment of oral disease in an individualized

disease-prevention and management model; and delivers patient-centered

oral health care to the community and the state."

Golgate got involved and invested money into the research.

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