Q&A: What good will a jelly battery do?

Mobile phone

You see the term jelly battery' and alarm bells immediately start ringing in your head.

Surely something that sounds so ridiculous can't possibly be of any real benefit, can it?

In this case, however, it might be a nice little discovery.

The so-called jelly' is actually a new material, a kind of polymer gel which could be used as a replacement for the liquid electrolyte used in the majority of today's lithium batteries.

A host of tech companies have had issues with battery safety in recent times. Last year, HP had to recall 54,000 laptops after batteries started overheating and causing fires.

Furthermore, many have criticised smartphone batteries for their short lifespans.

Evidently, there is plenty of room for improvement when it comes to making batteries safer, lighter and longer lasting.

We caught up with the Leeds research team to talk about what this development means in terms of real world application.

Can you explain what the actual breakthrough is here?

The real essence of the breakthrough is in using a novel polymer gel to replace the liquid electrolyte to form a solid and safe thin-film battery with no significant loss of performance.

Furthermore, we have developed a fully automated extrusion/lamination process that can manufacture a thin, flexible battery laminate film of the material at high speed and low cost.

This not only reduces capital investment but also eliminates the need for separator materials which can account for around 10 per cent of production costs.

How far away is it from commercial use?

The University of Leeds is planning to set up a spin-out company to commercialise the technology and we are hopeful that it will start to be commercialised for simpler battery applications within the next couple of years.

Large energy storage systems, e.g. for electric vehicles, are more complex and are likely to require a longer development period.

A problem with modern smartphones is how quickly they use up battery - will this development help with that in any way?

The technology will help in a couple of ways. Firstly, the Leeds technology helps by producing thin battery cells, thus allowing a greater energy density for the same space or, indeed, a smaller battery.

Secondly, battery performance is dictated by the electrode materials used, which others supply. However, this electrolyte benefits as it should be compatible with most lithium ion-based electrode systems.

Have you spoken to any businesses about this creation? If so, who?

The technology has already been licensed to an American firm - Polystor Energy Corporation - which is conducting trials to commercialise cells for portable consumer electronics.

Tom Brewster

Tom Brewster is currently an associate editor at Forbes and an award-winning journalist who covers cyber security, surveillance, and privacy. Starting his career at ITPro as a staff writer and working up to a senior staff writer role, Tom has been covering the tech industry for more than ten years and is considered one of the leading journalists in his specialism.

He is a proud alum of the University of Sheffield where he secured an undergraduate degree in English Literature before undertaking a certification from General Assembly in web development.