Technology

CES 2015: The charger that boosts battery in seconds

  • 7 January 2015
  • From the section Technology
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Media captionStoredot boss Doron Myersdorf shows off his fast-charging battery device

I've just been witness to what feels like a modern-day technological miracle.

A Samsung smartphone has just been recharged from being nearly out-of-juice to full capacity in less time than it takes to boil a kettle.

The Israeli start-up behind the demo, Storedot, has shown off a similar feat before.

But a previous demo posted online eight months ago involved a battery many times thicker than the handset itself as well as an outsized charger - making the tech impractical for real-world use.

This time round the phone involved is no bigger than normal, and the charging dock is pretty slim-line as well.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The demo was first shown in October at Storedot's Tel Aviv headquarters

There's a couple of trade-offs involved, but being able to recharge devices about 100 times faster than at present has the potential to revolutionise the way we use mobile phones, tablets, laptops and wearable tech.

Storedot's ambitions, however, are even larger.

Organic batteries

The BBC is the first to have been shown the new kit, apart from tech industry executives who had to sign non-disclosure agreements.

It's not something that can be retrofitted to existing devices, since most phones would be fried by the 40 amps of electricity the current version of the charger supplies.

It also involves using a completely new type of battery, which contains specially synthesised organic molecules.

"We have reactions in the battery that are non-traditional reactions that allow us to charge very fast, moving ions from an anode to a cathode at a speed that was not possible before we had these materials," explains Doron Myersdorf, the company's chief executive.

Image caption Storedot aims to recharge a typical smartphone battery in less than a minute by 2017

He adds that phone-makers from the US, South Korea, China and Japan have already begun talks to either license or buy exclusive rights to the tech, and that he has 17 meetings at this year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas with "all the major" players.

But Mr Myersdorf also acknowledges that there is still more work to be done before his tech is ready for consumers.

Storedot has a 2017 goal of matching the energy density - the amount of energy stored per kilogram - of its own batteries and the lithium-ion ones commonly found in existing handsets.

The firm's prototypes currently deliver about a third of that rate, meaning the normal-sized handset used in the demo only held 900mAh of juice, and would have to be recharged several times a day were it deployed now albeit only taking two minutes to do so each time.

The company also showed off a 2,000mAh battery, which took three minutes to recharge, but the phone that housed it had been made 5mm (0.2in) thicker than normal to accommodate its girth.

By the 2017 deadline, Storedot also aims to halve its current charging times.

Abramovich backing

At this point it's probably wise to offer a caveat.

The tests involved the BBC being shown a graphical readout to prove the batteries were being recharged as fast as suggested.

This would be relatively easy to fake, and Mr Myersdorf acknowledges that his scientific claims have yet to be peer reviewed.

But his credentials and those of his chief technology officer, Prof Simon Litsyn, check out. Both held key roles at Sandisk, which they helped make a leader in flash memory tech.

Image caption Storedot says it aims to further reduce the size of its charger

Furthermore, their firm has already raised $48.5m (£32.1m) of funds, $10m of which came from Russian tycoon Roman Abramovich's private asset management company. The BBC understands Samsung is among the other investors.

Even so, one industry-watcher remains wary.

"Battery technology is the single biggest challenge holding back the consumer electronics industry right now," says Ben Wood from the CCS Insight consultancy.

"Any claim to a major breakthrough should always treated with scepticism because it's been promised so many times before and we still don't have a solution.

"But if what this company is claiming to offer comes to pass, it would have a huge impact, as the amount of battery-hungry connected devices people use in their daily lives is rising exponentially."

'Game-changer'

Certainly, CES itself is packed with firms offering a plethora of portable batteries to help users make it through the day, everything from lip-stick sized chargers for emergency top-ups to a $500 (£300) backpack that can power up several gadgets at once.

Were we able to recharge smartphones in less than a minute, the need to buy such external batteries would decrease - and we might even become more willing to use processor-intensive apps and games, as well as adopt smartwatches and other wearable tech.

But Storedot has a bigger plan.

"We are just starting to work on electric vehicles," says Mr Myersdorf.

"And we intend to show in one year a model of a car that can charge in three minutes.

"We are 100% sure we can deliver, because the knowhow of how you take one cell and combine thousands of them together has already been done by Tesla.

"The user-experience would be exactly like refuelling, but without fumes.

"It would really boost adoption of electric vehicles. It would be a game-changer."

Click here for more coverage from the BBC at CES 2015

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