It is one of modern life’s great frustrations: for all of technology’s achievements, smartphones still have batteries that often last less than a day between charges.
The unreliable battery life on many handsets means owners are often left with the choice of waiting at home for their device to charge, or going out and running the risk of a flat battery.
But charging your phone could become a thing of the past after scientists took steps towards developing a phone battery that runs off solar power.
The researchers believe in the future it could mean phones that recharge themselves, or at least have their lifespan dramatically increased.
While solar-powered external chargers that plug into a phone already exist, the scientists at McGill University in Montreal and Hydro-Quebec, the Canadian province’s utility, have found a way to incorporate light-harvesting materials into the in-built battery.
By adding molecules with a photosensitive dye to the cathode – the battery terminal through which a phone is powered from the mains – they were able to simulate the charging process using solar power.
Tests showed it was possible to generate a small amount of power from the photo-sensitive molecules, according to the findings outlined in Nature Communications.
The scientists said they must now develop an appropriate anode, the terminal that stores and releases energy when powering a device. They said if they are successful, they will have created the first self-charging lithium-ion battery, although it is likely to take years.
“Theoretically speaking, our goal is to develop a new hybrid solar-battery system, but depending on the power it can generate when we miniaturise it, we can imagine applications for portable devices such as phones,” said Hydro-Quebec’s Andrea Paolella, who led the study.
Prototypes of a solar-powered phone have been created, but they rely on separate solar panels, which take up valuable space in the device. The self-charging battery would itself be solar-sensitive, although phones would have to be redesigned to let light into the battery.
Despite advances in processors, displays and other smartphone components in recent years, the technology in batteries has hardly changed. Advances have largely been brought about by phones getting bigger, meaning they can fit higher-capacity batteries within them.
By James Titcomb