Apple developing new batteries to improve energy capacity in devices

Apple is hiring scientists to create batteries based on new materials, but it's not certain when or if they will reach devices

Apple developing new batteries to improve energy capacity in devices
Credit: Intel

Apple can't yet boast of significantly longer battery life in devices, but the company is looking to change that.

The company is researching new types of batteries that could potentially help PCs, mobile devices and wearable devices run much longer without a recharge.

Job listings posted over the last two months point to Apple researching new battery technologies and looking to improve on current lithium-ion architectures.

Apple is looking for materials scientists; the jobs involve evaluating and testing new materials beyond the current lithium-ion technology.

The company has posted job listings for scientists who specialize in electrodes and electrolytes, indicating that the company is researching new technologies in cathodes, anodes and electrolytes, which are the building blocks of batteries. 

In current batteries, lithium ions move from the cathode to the anode for storage. During a discharge, the lithium ions move from an anode to cathode and to the device using the battery. Liquid electrolytes allow charged lithium ions to move around.

Apple seems to be focusing on ceramic as an electrolyte, which has been proven in labs to provide faster charging and safer batteries.

One job listing points to Apple looking to improve on current lithium-ion battery with the help of new materials. Scientists are mainly looking to improve electrolytes, which could help batteries charge faster and make them less flammable.

Current lithium-ion battery technology has reached its limits in terms of energy capacity, and is also considered unsafe due to fire risk. Battery research has stepped up in the last decade, with scientists developing new types of batteries that have more energy capacity and potentially are safer.

Apple is also hiring people that can take battery technology from the lab to factories, which is a challenge for university researchers trying to commercialize battery technologies.

Some new batteries like silver-zinc, which came out about eight years ago, failed because they were expensive. Lithium-ion batteries are relatively inexpensive to produce, but Apple could use scale of manufacturing to bring down the cost of making new types of batteries.

Apple has already been granted a patent on a solid-state battery, which is considered the next big technology in battery research. A startup called Prieto Battery is separately developing a solid-state battery that could be in devices running on Intel chips by 2017. Solid state batteries have a different structure and could potentially hold five times more energy capacity than lithium-ion batteries. 

A new battery technology could also play a role in Apple's plans to develop a car. Apple did not return request for comment on new battery technologies it may be working on, or when new technology would reach devices. 

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