What kind of battery would an advanced sci-fi world use, that has basis in real science (something we only speculate about today)? When I say battery, I mean things that power devices not laser gun arrays. We currently use lithium-ion batteries. Basically, what would be the next upgrade after that?
closed as primarily opinion-based by sphennings, StephenG, dot_Sp0T, Josh King, Mołot Oct 24 '17 at 6:06
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One more exotic kind is a nuclear isomer battery.
Metastable nuclear isomers may allow energy density several orders of magnitude higher than any chemical or electrochemical storage.
And unlike fission reactors, there is no risk of chain reaction and uncontrolled release of energy.
If by battery you mean energy storage device, there are better alternatives to traditional chemical batteries. Obviously it depends on what you want to use it for but one option is to use a high tech version of an ancient device – the flywheel.
The hi tech versions involve rotation in a vacuum with magnetic levitation giving almost frictionless rotation. The older high mass wheels are being replaced by Kevlar and carbon fibre composites that allow much higher rotational speeds to be achieved.
When fully up to speed large installations are already capable of producing 1-megawatt of electricity for 15 minutes. Advances in materials technology could have signifficant effect as the energy storage capacity increases as the square of the speed of rotation. Superconducting magnetic bearings are also being introduced reducing friction further still.
Main problem with "normal" batteries and/or supercapacitors and/or flywheels is they are inherently very dangerous because:
- they must store a huge amount of energy.
- if anything goes wrong all that energy will be released in a very short time.
The combination of the two can be devastating.
The higher energy/volume ratio is achieved by thinner gaps (batteries/supercapacitors) or higher speeds (flywheels); both increment risk of failures.
Chemical energy, OTOH, needs a distinct activation energy to release contained energy; even hydrogen leak, however dangerous, will not result in an explosion without a spark.
IMHO catalytic power cells converting directly some kind of fuel (methanol, hydrogen, ...) to electricity will be one of future widely used "batteries", if some current limitations are overcome (Elon Musk feels technology is insecure because hydrogen explosion risk, but several of his cars already went on fire quite spectacularly even with "conventional" accumulators). Ethanol-powered cells seem a good bet, at the moment.
Note there would also a huge benefit with recharging taking a few seconds instead of many minutes (or hours!).
The next advancement on the horizon for batteries can be one of a few things, and many of them are in development right now!
Here are two of them:
- Sodium Batteries may become cheaper and better at holding and expelling charge than current Li-ion batteries. Sodium is relatively abundant, whereas Lithium primarily comes from a few players, like China, Australia, and Chile.
- Supercapacitors can charge faster, hold more charge, and may even become cheaper than current Li-ion batteries. It isn't a battery, though, but may soon take over the functions of a battery in cars, etc.
Much further down the technical road, we will probably store energy as matter. Not as a set of chemical reactants, but as the mass component of Einstein's famous equation.
Exclusive knowledge is as much a victim of entropy as everything else. Once upon a time, only the tribe's witch doctor knew how to start a fire. Now many of us carry matches or butane lighters in our pockets and we teach our children how to start a blaze using just a couple sticks.
Currently only superpowers and energy companies get to build and destroy atoms.
Someday, when we have safe, more controllable methods for converting matter to energy and vice versa, when we can create and destroy not only broken (radioactive) matter but also the stable, non-glow-in-the-dark kind, then the idea of carrying energy around in batteries might go away for ever.
When you need a little juice, just release the energy from an eyelash or a few grains of sand.
Enhanced chemical batteries are the next step
There's three general categories of power density.
Near term, we are still going to be using chemical batteries. Why? Because nukes are scary and very expensive. Antimatter is exceptionally expensive (on the order of trillions of dollars for very small amounts.) Sure, the power density from nuclear or antimatter batteries is many orders of magnitude higher than chemical batteries but so is the expense and risk.
Near term, in real life, it's going to be better chemistry with better fabrication techniques and better anode/cathode construction. From what I've read, getting high energy density is relatively easy. It's getting the recharge cycle count high enough to be useful is the real challenge.
I'm not chemist so I can't speculate on the chemistry that will be the next big thing. (If I did know I'd be building factories ;) )
Even nuclear batteries that rely on alpha emissions are dangerous. They're harmless outside your body because your dead skin cells are shielding enough. Inside you're body though, they're a great way to get cancer.