An Israeli startup called StoreDot has wowed the internet with a YouTube clip: a Samsung Galaxy 4 smartphone taking just 30 seconds to charge to 100 percent from 27 percent. The video, viewed more than 1.2 million times in about 24 hours, was something of a circus trick: Rather than the Galaxy's standard battery, a device about three times as thick as the phone was attached to its back. StoreDot even developed a nice Android app to show on the phone's screen how fast that thing was filling up with energy. The demonstration ended with the charge level at 100 percent, refraining from any mention that the new battery would drain more quickly than the standard one.
StoreDot chief executive Doron Myersdorf wasn't out to dupe the gullible public, however: He was indeed demonstrating the future of all battery-powered electrical devices, from phones to cars. The way the technological winds are blowing, it lies with devices called supercapacitors. They are a cross between a battery, which charges slowly and holds a lot of energy, and a capacitor, which is the exact opposite, charging and discharging extremely fast. Developing a supercapacitor that can soak up a lot of energy quickly depends on materials used in the electrodes.
A team in Korea reported last fall that it had built a supercapacitor storing almost as much energy as a lithium-ion battery using graphene, a fashionable new material whose developers received the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics. Almost simultaneously, similar claims were made by a team at Stony Brook University. Chemists at Oregon State University have proposed a process for treating cellulose, and cheap and abundant material, to create supercapacitor electrodes. All these advances are about as recent as those of StoreDot, which claims to have built what it calls a bio-organic battery. According to Myersdorf, "On the one side, it acts like a supercapacitor with very fast charging, and on the other is like a lithium electrode with slow discharge."
The Israeli company's new electrodes are made using organic molecules, peptides, forming so-called nanodots that improve capacitance. Myersdorf has a lot to say about his fairy-tale technology, saying it can be used to produce color displays and ultra-fast memory chips. The fast-charging batteries are just the first commercial application. The StoreDot chief executive says the company needs another year to produce a battery that will fit in the mobile phone and then two years to make it last a whole day. If he doesn't deliver on those promises, that will be no big deal (except to the firm's early backers who have invested $6 million, and possibly Samsung, which wasin talks about a partnership with StoreDot last year). Someone else will almost certainly produce a supercapacitor able to store energy like a lithium-ion battery, using one or several of the emerging technologies.
Even if that lofty goal is not reached, supercapacitors are likely to be used in conjunction with traditional batteries to enable fast charging. For electric car owners, that will not only mean creating a gas-station-like charging experience but also extend running time because braking energy can be stored in a supercapacitor. Batteries are too slow-charging for that.
So many talented teams are working in this direction now that the new electrical revolution is almost assured, and that is all we need to know from the StoreDot demonstration so far. That's a lot, though: Just when we thought smartphone progress had stalled, improvements are coming in an area where they are most needed.
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Leonid Bershidsky writes on Russia, Europe and technology for Bloomberg View. Follow him on Twitter at @Bershidsky.
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