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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?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by sphennings, StephenG, dot_Sp0T, Josh King, Mołot Oct 24 '17 at 6:06

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ Every device has a different use case with different criteria for what is important from a battery. There is a reason why there are so many different battery technologies in use today. Without knowing a use case the criteria for best is entirely subjective. $\endgroup$ – sphennings Oct 23 '17 at 20:20
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    $\begingroup$ Does anyone know if the idea of a "Shipstone" from Heinlein's Friday and The Cat Who Walked Through Walls novels is in the public domain yet? They are both more than 30 years in print, but I don't know the actual law. If I were writing a sci-fi that involved a super battery, I would call it a "Shipstone" or even a "Heinlein Shipstone" in tribute. After all fiction often predates fact. We have a shuttle called Enterprise and a sub named Nautilus. $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Oct 23 '17 at 21:18
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    $\begingroup$ @HenryTaylor Currently the close votes aren't for off-topic. They are for too broad/primarily opinion based. $\endgroup$ – Bellerophon Oct 23 '17 at 21:35
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    $\begingroup$ The best idea is to not elaborate on the physical mechanism and to treat it like a black box made possible by the genius "Fred Flintstone" in the year "XXXX" ideally with a name like "energy storage unit" that is agnostic as to the mechanism involved. $\endgroup$ – ohwilleke Oct 23 '17 at 22:02
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    $\begingroup$ "What is best ____" is primarily opinion based, unless there are clear criteria for "good" in the question. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Oct 24 '17 at 6:09
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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.

Naturally, this is very attractive for the military applications.
So far it's mostly theoretical, but there are some advances that may bring this type of energy storage closer to reality.

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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.

See this video

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.

enter image description here

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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!).

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  • $\begingroup$ It'll be a weird day when gasoline powered phones are the safe and environmentally friendly option. $\endgroup$ – user25818 Oct 23 '17 at 22:08
  • $\begingroup$ @notstoreboughtdirt: agreed ;) I was thinking more about ethanol though. Gasoline is really too dirty (not to speak about additives). $\endgroup$ – ZioByte Oct 23 '17 at 22:19
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Rechargeable Lithium metal battery would be, from scientific standpoint, the ultimately effective electrical battery. Any other electrochemical process is inferior in terms of energy density

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
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  • $\begingroup$ Lithium comes from China for the same reason most things come from China; it's not as if China has particularly rich lithium deposits. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Oct 24 '17 at 0:49
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP Not according to material databases I've seen. China really does control a major fraction of the commercially viable lithium, their reserves being an estimated order of magnitude above many other countries. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithium#Terrestrial) Most countries (all aprox. 200 of them) don't have any they can mine, and don't even make the wikipedia chart for lithium production in 2016 (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_lithium_production). Not all countries have such mineral gifts. $\endgroup$ – PipperChip Oct 24 '17 at 3:21
  • $\begingroup$ This is simply a matter of vocabulary. In the extractive industry, the word "reserves" means stuff which has been found, surveyed, assessed and placed on the balance sheet; it does not mean "stuff which we know it's in the ground but we didn't bother surveying or assessing it". $\endgroup$ – AlexP Oct 24 '17 at 11:08
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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.

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  • $\begingroup$ Yes although the battery aspect is already sorted here. All masses are batteries waiting to be tapped. The big problem is how. $\endgroup$ – Slarty Oct 23 '17 at 22:48
  • $\begingroup$ Interestingly, long before you reach this point of completely ubiquitous access to energy, it ceases to be the constraining factor. Instead the problem becomes disposing of waste heat. $\endgroup$ – Lex Oct 24 '17 at 4:33
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Enhanced chemical batteries are the next step

There's three general categories of power density.

  • Chemical
  • Nuclear
  • Anti-matter

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.

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