Companies are constantly testing out new ways to extend battery life due to overwhelming consumer complaints about devices that die out quickly and batteries that degrade within months. Battery life has repeatedly topped consumer surveys on things that need to be improved about smartphones.

Google has tried using AI to regulate smartphone energy usage, and other companies are now offering smartphones that can be charged with solar power. Most battery life efforts are focused on ways to reduce your phone’s power usage, or make it easier to charge in one way or another.

But scientists from Cornell University are approaching the issue another way. What if batteries themselves could be redesigned so that they not only hold more power for longer, but could also charge faster than ever?

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Professor Ulrich Wiesner and a team of researchers at the Cornell Department of Materials Science and Engineering wanted to test out whether they could create a battery that intertwined its components in a self-assembling, 3D gyroidal structure.

“Electrical energy storage systems such as batteries would benefit enormously from integrating all device components in three-dimensional (3D) architectures on the nanoscale to improve their power capability without negatively impacting the device-scale energy density,” the team wrote in their study, which was published on Wednesday.

Wiesner told the Cornell Chronicle that the 3D shape was “truly a revolutionary battery architecture,” that could lead to a point where “you put your cable into the socket, in seconds, perhaps even faster, the battery would be charged.”

“This three-dimensional architecture basically eliminates all losses from dead volume in your device,” Wiesner said.

“More importantly, shrinking the dimensions of these interpenetrated domains down to the nanoscale, as we did, gives you orders of magnitude higher power density. In other words, you can access the energy in much shorter times than what’s usually done with conventional battery architectures.”

But the paper stressed that this was a proof of concept, and was still rife with challenges that would make it difficult to recreate on any mass scale.

“While the concept of 3D nano-networked architectures for electrical energy storage (EES) systems offers tremendous advantages over conventional designs, only very few reports of such systems with nanoscale dimensions exist and a working device remains elusive. The challenges to fabricate the functional materials necessary for a battery in a 3D continuous nano-architecture are immense,” the researchers wrote.

“The lack of large scale synthesis methods of 3D architectures with precise spatial control of multiple, functional energy materials at the nanoscale remains a key issue holding back the development of such intricate device designs.”

Despite its flaws, the scientists have applied for patent protection on the work, and will continue working on the project with the help of the US Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation.

“This work demonstrates that successful and reversible battery characteristics can be obtained with such nanoscale structures, with orders of magnitude smaller dimensions than used in common composite or even thin-film batteries.”

The big takeaways for tech leaders:

  • Scientists at Cornell University are working on batteries that could recharge almost instantly.
  • The idea still needs more testing, but it’s the first step in solving battery life consumer demands for mobile devices.