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True breakthroughs in the battery world are rarer than announcements might suggest, but sometimes a big innovation is as practical to manufacture as it is brilliant. That will hopefully be the case with Nokia Bell Labs’ latest invention. Working with researchers at Trinity College Dublin’s AMBER center, the company has developed a lithium nanotube-aided battery that promises to deliver 2.5 times the longevity of today’s best alternatives, even in small, thin enclosures. The new batteries are chiefly intended for power-hungry 5G devices — such as drones, internet of things products, and connected electric vehicles — but they could be used more broadly.

Nokia Bell Labs’ history with slim cell phone batteries makes its claims particularly credible. According to a study it published in the international science journal Nature Energy, the partners have developed thick new battery electrodes using a composite of carbon nanotubes and lithium storage materials, enabling energy to be transferred at near-theoretical peak efficiency levels. As a result, the batteries charge quickly and make the most of whatever physical volume they consume.

“By packing more energy into a smaller space, this new battery technology will have a profound impact on 5G and the entire networked world,” said Nokia’s Paul King. “The combination of Nokia Bell Labs industry and device knowledge and AMBER’s materials science expertise allowed us to tackle an extremely difficult problem involving multiple disciplines.”

Practically, Nokia suggests that the technology will enable small, power-constrained devices to run for markedly longer times than before, which has implications within and beyond the 5G world. Next-generation internet of things sensors are already being designed to connect to cellular networks for 10 years without requiring battery recharges; the innovation could either increase that to 25 years or allow the battery’s size to shrink by over 50%. Similarly, 5G-controlled drones could become lighter in weight while possessing the same run times or gain longer run times at the same weight. The researchers also expect the innovation to aid renewable energy systems, which rely on batteries to back up uneven supplies of wind and solar power.

Nokia says a patent has been filed for the new technology, with plans to bring it to market in the future. As is commonly the case with new battery technologies, the researchers are providing no specific timetable for commercialization.

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