A new kind of battery might revolutionize flight if US-based start-up Cuberg has anything to say about it, developing the next generation of batteries for drones and perhaps even something bigger. The company, which has support from Boeing, venture capitalists, and the U.S. Department of Energy has released a video of their new lithium metal battery in a quadcopter that flew 70 percent longer than the one powered by a lithium-ion battery.
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The Cuberg batter uses a new, non-flammable electrolyte that erases the safety risks associated with the common lithium-ion batteries. Cuberg wants to be part of the future of flying and say that old-school lithium-ion batteries are just not up to the task. Lithium-ion batteries are heavy, they underperform and are vulnerable to rapid degradation.
Move Over Lithium-Ion
Lithium-ion might be ok for your little hobby drone, but when things get scaled up to bigger flying objects like Uber Elevate, electric planes or cargo drones they are just not up to the task. One of the biggest downsides of lithium-ion batteries is there tendency to catch on fire which happens when the flammable electrolyte fails to vent gasses that react to the cathode.
This reaction can cause runaway heating, fire, and even explosions. Cuberg says their new electrolyte is thermally stable, so even if other materials inside the vehicle are overheating the battery remains stable and can provide more power density as well as safety. Critically, the electrolyte is able to be introduced into current lithium-ion battery making processes.
Battery Tech Needs to Fit In With Industry
In order to make a big dent in the battery industry a new battery doesn’t just need to be good it also has to prove it can be introduced into a saturated market that has a lot of built-up infrastructure around it. In other words, the battery has to make as much business sense as it does scientifically.
If the alternative flight industry continues to develop there will be a huge demand for lighter and safer battery. But it won't mean the end of the lithium-ion battery. These will still have a place where weight is less of an issue like in grid storage. Cuberg was founded on research completed by its founders while they completed studies at Stanford.
Uber Wants Flying Taxies Within a Decade
Within just three years the company has grown exponentially and just in April this year, they were awarded $1.57 million in grants from California Energy Commission for production scale-up. The drone taxi industry has massive potential.
Early last year Uber CEO said the company's flying taxi service calls Uber Elevate could be up and running within five to ten years. The company will begin testing its four-passenger, 200 mphUberAir flying taxi services across Los Angeles in 2020. But there are some technological and regulatory roadblocks in the way. Lighter and safer batteries would certainly be one useful piece of technology.