A Game-Changing Battery

A depiction of the hypothetical Quantum battery developed by researchers at the Toronto and Alberta universities.

Ashok Nambisan

A depiction of the hypothetical Quantum battery developed by researchers at the Toronto and Alberta universities.

We’ve all experienced that one, fatal moment when right as you’re about to make a call or send out a text message, your phone screen goes blank. Your device’s battery has just died. But, not to worry, you can simply plug your charger in and that will restart your phone. The invention of the battery has had one of the most significant impacts on our daily lives, from allowing us to use our laptops to powering the remote to surf channels on the TV. Batteries give us the ability to move energy from one location to another and to store energy for long periods of time. However, batteries also have a downside: after long periods of not being used, all batteries leak charge and must be recharged with new energy.

Batteries tend to leak charge due to the fact that most of them store energy based on electrochemical principles that involve using atomic electronegativity. This creates tension between the electrons in the battery, which then in turn produces heat. The heat produced then dissipates into the environment. Because of this process, batteries leak energy in the form of heat into the environment. With this, the usefulness of the battery decreases and it becomes necessary for the battery to get more energy. This additional energy usually comes from sources like coal or oil, which contribute to problems like climate change.

With the increasing urgency of the climate change crisis, scientists are looking for new alternative energy sources to replace fossil fuels. One downside of many renewable energy sources is that they cannot collect energy during times when the source of their energy is unavailable. For example, when the sun is down, solar panels cannot collect energy. When wind dies down, wind turbines stop producing energy. This means that in order to deliver energy to consumers at all times, we need batteries that are highly efficient at storing energy.

Taking this problem head on, scientists at the University of Alberta and the University of Toronto have developed the design of a battery that could potentially never lose charge due to leakage. This battery, unlike the batteries we are used to, uses the principles of quantum mechanics to keep the energy from leaking.

How the Batteries Work

What is the science behind this new battery? The battery’s design consists of an exchange symmetry network made of identical particles. An exchange symmetry network is one where a pair of identical particles share the same wave function. Identical particles are particles that share very similar properties. For example, two different electrons would be considered identical particles. This is because they will have the same “spin” even if they have different quantum states and speed. Hence, in an exchange symmetry system, the swapping of these particles does not change the wave function’s overall value.

In the battery, identical particles in the exchange symmetry would receive excitonic energy, which is the energy created when electrons are hit by photons. These exchange symmetry systems are closed quantum systems and allow very little contact with the environment, giving them the ability to store excitonic energy for much longer periods of time. This process allows the battery to dwell in a “dark state”, increasing its performance.

“The key is to prepare this quantum network in what is called a dark state,” explained Dr. Hanna, the principal investigator of the study. “While in a dark state, the network cannot exchange energy with its environment. In essence, the system becomes immune to all environmental influences. This means that the battery is highly robust to energy losses.”

We can also look to plants for an example. During the night, plants create a dark state. They take in energy during the day, and they use the complex methods of the Calvin cycle to keep the energy during the night for processing. It is very important for the plant that none of the energy collected leaks to the environment. We can relate the behavior of plants to the logic behind the design of the battery. New battery technologies, like this new excitonic quantum battery, are trying to replicate the methods nature employs to create high performance “batteries” in plants and other living organisms.

The Battery’s Applications

If this new design of a leakage-free battery becomes a reality, we would have the ability to power electronic devices for much longer periods of time. We’d also be able to reduce the cost of these devices and make a massive step forward in the fight against climate change. This technology could be used for further development of new types of electronic devices, without the burden of a bulky battery that leaks charge to the environment.

This battery will benefit the environment by a large margin. Most solar panel technology is reliant on storing energy for long durations during the night, when the resource is limited. With this tech, solar panels and other renewable energy sources will be more efficient. Due to this, there would be  reduction of fossil fuel emissions due to less energy having to be drawn from fossil fuels.  This battery has the potential to reduce the race for fossil fuel resources and reduce the need for fossil fuel resources among different countries. Because of this, nations would spend less money on war, but rather on improving the lives of their citizens and style of living will increase. With the help of these batteries, it would be more cost effective for hospitals around the world to use better machinery to help their patients, improving global healthcare.  Space-traveling would be more cost-effective as energy resources would be able to be stored for long periods of time, opening opportunities for us to create new colonies on far-away planets where modern battery technology would not last.