A startup in California, with the rather odd name of Qnovo, says it has developed a new way of rapidly recharging conventional lithium-ion batteries. With Qnovo’s technology, you can get six hours of phone life from just 15 minutes of charging — compared to just 1-2 hours from conventional charging. The secret, according to Qnovo, is that no two batteries are identical — and knowing exactly how much power you can pump into the battery without damaging it can significantly improve recharge times.
As you’re probably aware, lithium-ion batteries — as in, the battery in your smartphone, tablet, laptop — generally hold less charge as time goes by. There are many reasons for LIBs to lose charge and efficiency, but one of the most pesky is the creation of dendrites – mossy deposits of lithium that ooze out of cracks in the anode that form during charging. These dendrites can reach out towards the electrolyte and cause short circuits, seriously reducing the battery’s capacity.
Now, device makers already know that charging a lithium-ion battery is pretty dangerous because of dendrite formation. So, to ensure the dendrites don’t form, the amount of current flowing into the battery is reduced to a trickle. This results in longer battery life, which is good — but also significantly longer recharge times.
Qnovo is offering a different solution. Rather than simply reducing the charging current to the “lowest common denominator” that definitely won’t damage the battery, Qnovo has designed an intelligent feedback loop that constantly checks the battery’s status to ensure that it gets the optimal amount of current. Apparently, simply by simply sending a pulse into the battery, and then registering the voltage response, Qnovo can work out the battery’s temperature, age, and other factors that affect charging. By continually polling the battery as it charges, the current can be constantly tweaked. The Qnovo website notes that this doesn’t just help batteries of different ages, either: Even two batteries made on the same day, at the same factory, can behave significantly differently.
The end result, according to Qnovo, is somewhere between three and six times faster charging — plus your battery stays healthier for longer, apparently. Qnovo is offering two solutions: A piece of software that improves charging speed, or a special chip that manages your device’s charging circuitry. The chip is more effective, but obviously it’s easier to get device makers to install a piece of software on a phone, rather than redesign a circuit board.
Obviously, if there’s a simple software solution that can both speed up charging and increase battery longevity, then Qnovo could be onto something big. While mobile devices are still severely restricted by total battery capacity, faster charging would certainly give mobile computing another big boost.