Whether charging a phone or powering the TV remote, most people are well-acquainted with batteries. But diving deeper into the science of batteries reveals a wealth of surprising ideas and innovations. Although they’ve been a familiar technology for decades, batteries are set to be an important technology of the future.

Inside all batteries are electrochemical cells that store chemical energy with the potential to be converted into electrical energy. Most batteries have a positively charged side (the anode) and a negatively charged side (the cathode). When the electrons flow from the anode to the cathode through a circuit, the battery can power other electrical elements added to the system, like lightbulbs. This simple structure opens up opportunities for probing and fine-tuning across many disciplines, and Stanford University researchers are doing just that. 

As they work to solve the mysteries of battery degradation, reveal the true environmental toll of battery production and disposal, and improve the performance of next-generation batteries, battery researchers are hoping their advances can change the world – and our daily lives – for the better.

(Image credit: Ella Maru Studio)

Battery performance

Have you ever had an old computer or smartphone that needs to be charged frequently? This may have to do with the device’s declining battery performance. A battery, like many things, ages and loses energy capacity.

A major focus in battery research – and a cornerstone for Stanford researchers – is improving current batteries based on a better understanding of why they fail. Whether it be the degradation of rechargeable batteries or identifying how electrodes age, some of the most prominent obstacles in this field could lead to noteworthy advances in performance.

Researchers get most comprehensive view yet of lithium-ion battery electrode damage

What they learned could help manufacturers design more reliable and longer-lasting batteries for smartphones and cars.

AI accurately predicts useful life of batteries

In an advance that could accelerate battery development and improve manufacturing, scientists have found how to accurately predict the useful lifespan of lithium-ion batteries.

Untangling a strange phenomenon that both helps and hurts lithium-ion battery performance

New research offers the first complete picture of why a promising approach of stuffing more lithium into battery cathodes leads to their failure. A better understanding of this could be the key to smaller phone batteries and electric cars that drive farther between charges.

Predicting the slow death of a lithium-ion battery

A new model offers a way to predict the condition of a battery’s internal systems in real-time with far more accuracy than existing tools. In electric cars, the technology could improve driving range estimates and prolong battery life.

First closeups of how a lithium-metal electrode ages

Scientists have documented a process that makes these next-gen batteries lose charge – and eventually some of their capacity for storing energy – even when a device is turned off.

How extreme cold can crack lithium-ion battery materials, degrading performance

Storing the rechargeable batteries at sub-freezing temperatures can crack the battery cathode and separate it from other parts of the battery, a new study shows.

Scientists discover how oxygen loss saps a lithium-ion battery’s voltage

Measuring the process in unprecedented detail gives them clues to how to minimize the problem and protect battery performance.

First realistic portraits of squishy layer that’s key to battery performance

Cryo-EM snapshots of the solid-electrolyte interphase, or SEI, reveal its natural swollen state and offer a new approach to lithium-metal battery design.

Revitalizing batteries by bringing ‘dead’ lithium back to life

Islands of inactive lithium creep like worms to reconnect with their electrodes, restoring a battery’s capacity and lifespan.

AI deciphers atomic-scale images for better batteries

Using artificial intelligence to analyze vast amounts of data in atomic-scale images, Stanford researchers answered long-standing questions about an emerging type of rechargeable battery posing competition to lithium-ion chemistry.

What drives rechargeable battery decay? Depends on how many times you've charged it

How quickly a battery electrode decays depends on properties of individual particles in the battery – at first. Later on, the network of particles matters more.

(Image credit: Pure Earth)

A battery’s environmental impact

Big or small, batteries can lead to serious consequences for people and nature. From the mining of raw materials to manufacturing to disposal and recycling, there is much work to be done to reduce the environmental impact of batteries.

At the same time, one of the greatest promises of batteries is that they could spark long-term energy independence and a more sustainable future.

New water-based battery offers large-scale energy storage

Stanford scientists have developed a manganese-hydrogen battery that could fill a missing piece in the nation’s energy puzzle by storing wind and solar energy for when it is needed, lessening the need to burn carbon-emitting fossil fuels.

Liquid-metal, high-voltage flow battery

Stanford scientists have developed a new type of flow battery that involves a liquid metal; it more than doubled the maximum voltage of conventional flow batteries and could lead to affordable storage of renewable power.

Good news for rooftop solar, not for home batteries

Thinking about investing in rooftop solar? Probably a good idea environmentally almost anywhere, Stanford researchers find. Eyeing a home battery, too? Think again.

Q&A: The dollars and sense of big batteries on the grid

Storing energy produced by wind or solar for later use has a challenge competing with existing natural gas-fired generation units. But batteries designed for the job could ease the way.

How to power up battery manufacturing in India

India will need to make the switch from coal to renewable energy to meet its ambitious decarbonization goals. Batteries could be key to meeting these targets and represent an opportunity to develop the country’s battery manufacturing industry.

Pervasive health threats of unregulated battery recycling

A remediation and public education effort at an abandoned battery recycling facility in Bangladesh eliminated most lead soil contamination, but levels of the toxic metal in children living near the site did not decrease nearly as much.

Jef Caers: How better mineral exploration makes better batteries

A geoscientist explains why the use of artificial intelligence in the exploration of rare metals could be the key to America’s environmental and energy future.

Next generation batteries

Researchers today are generating a flurry of new ideas to improve the design and structure of battery technology. These ideas can come from simple questions: How are batteries created? What can make them more successful? What can one do with a battery? 

And they can lead to inventive answers: Battery testing that uses artificial intelligence; reengineering “dead weight” in lithium-ion batteries to make them safer; wirelessly charging a car as it drives.

With all the various technologies that batteries influence, building a better battery could help make current and future machines safer, smarter, and more productive.

New method for waking up devices

A device that’s turned off doesn’t suck battery life, but it also doesn’t work. Now a low-power system that’s always on the alert can turn devices on when they are needed, saving energy in the networked internet of things.

New coating brings lithium metal battery closer to reality

A Stanford-led research team invented a new coating that could finally make lightweight lithium metal batteries safe and long lasting, which could usher in the next generation of electric vehicles.

Machine learning could speed the arrival of ultra-fast-charging electric car

Using artificial intelligence, a Stanford-led research team has slashed battery testing times – a key barrier to longer-lasting, faster-charging batteries for electric vehicles – by nearly fifteenfold.

How we might recharge an electric car as it drives

Engineers have demonstrated a practical way to use magnetism to transmit electricity wirelessly to recharge electric cars, robots, or even drones.

New battery electrolyte may lengthen the range of electric vehicles

A new lithium-based electrolyte invented by Stanford University scientists could pave the way for the next generation of battery-powered electric vehicles.

Scientists probe the chemistry of a single battery electrode particle both inside and out

The results show how a particle’s surface and interior influence each other, an important thing to know when developing more robust batteries.

New solid electrolyte material could improve safety and performance of lithium-ion batteries

Stanford University scientists have identified a new class of solid materials that could replace flammable liquid electrolytes in lithium-ion batteries.

A new approach boosts lithium-ion battery efficiency and puts out fires, too

Adding polymers and fireproofing to a battery’s current collectors makes it lighter, safer, and about 20% more efficient.

In a leap for battery research, machine learning gets scientific smarts

The latest advance from a research collaboration with industry could dramatically accelerate the development of sturdier batteries for fast-charging electric vehicles.

Researchers make alkali metal-chlorine batteries rechargeable

A new type of rechargeable alkali metal-chlorine battery developed at Stanford holds six times more electricity than the commercially available rechargeable lithium-ion batteries commonly used today.

Next-gen battery solutions

A new mathematical model has brought together the physics and chemistry of highly promising lithium-metal batteries, providing researchers with plausible, fresh solutions to a problem known to cause degradation and failure.