The automotive industry has a ‘million-mile’ dream for electric vehicles, but it’s a boring one. They want to build a battery capable of being recharged over and over as many times as it takes to reach a million miles without losing its ability to retain a charge. Yawn.
We’re more interested in the cutting-edge quantum physics version of a million-mile battery: one that can last a million miles between charges.
This would effectively eliminate the need for the bulk of vehicle operators to ever charge their batteries. Even heavy-use owners could just pop into the shop for routine maintenance every couple of years to top their batteries off.
Up front: Quantum batteries are a theoretical technology that would exploit quantum physics in order create units capable of holding massive amounts of energy and charging incredibly fast.
There are numerous teams of scientists working in universities, startups, and corporate laboratories around the world to develop quantum batteries and, judging by the slate of recent research papers on the subject, the scientific community at-large seems to think we’re on the verge of a breakthrough.
Whether that means quantum batteries are a month away or decades away remains to be seen.
Background: Batteries are a very complex technology. Even the little batteries we use for consumer goods are a mystery to scientists.
As Dr. Jeanette Garcia, senior manager, quantum applications and algorithms at IBM, put it in a recent company post:
We don’t really know what goes on inside of batteries. This thing is a mystery. Sure, we know how to make batteries. But we can’t really see what’s happening inside a battery, at a molecular level, while it’s working.
To that end, companies such as IBM and Mercedes Benz are working together to create quantum computing systems capable of simulating the molecular interactions inside of a battery.
This could lead to better batteries of all types in the near term, ranging from cell phone batteries that charge faster and last longer to EVs with extended ranges and even better industrial energy engineering and energy usage.
Quantum batteries are even more complex than regular batteries. One of the big ideas scientists are exploring on their way to developing them involves a concept called “superabsorption.”
Traditional batteries work on an intuitive principle: the bigger they are, the longer it generally takes to charge them.
With superabsorption however, quantum batteries would flip the script. The more molecules you pack into a battery featuring superabbsorption, the faster it charges. That means a battery the size of a building would charge faster than one the size of a cell phone.
Quick take: There’s no telling exactly when fancy new quantum batteries will hit the market. But one thing’s for certain, when they do it’ll be huge.
Imagine having an iPad you never have to charge or a Tesla that can drive a million city miles between charges.
More importantly, however, quantum battery technology could be what saves us from the human-wrought global climate crisis and our dependency on harmful fuel sources.
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