Quantum batteries: Strange technology that could provide instant power

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Simone Rotella

THE battery, as US comedian Demetri Martin pointed out, is one technology that we personify. “Other things stop working or they break,” he said. “But batteries – they die.” The observation is keener than it may at first appear. So beholden are some of us to smartphones, tablets and other digital technology, that our lives pretty much go on hold when they run out of juice. Even if it is just 30 minutes, we are apt to mourn the time lost to recharging.

If that seems like a laughable reaction, there is a serious side to this when it comes to the batteries that power electric vehicles. The fact that it usually takes hours to charge them is a major stumbling block to decarbonising transport, which is among the biggest global emitters of greenhouse gases. For humanity’s sake, charging times need to be slashed. Yet, with the fundamentals of battery science the same as they were half a century ago, the prospect of a drastic improvement looks slim.

Slim, but not impossible. Now, quantum physics could ride to our rescue. By leveraging the strange behaviour of subatomic particles, a quantum battery could charge itself much faster than any conventional device. As a handy bonus, the bigger a quantum battery, the better it performs. Although the concept is in its infancy, a recent experimental demonstration and some theoretical advances suggest that a world of uninterrupted portable power isn’t so far-fetched. One day, dead batteries could spring back to life in an instant.

Technically speaking, a battery is anything that can …

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