It’s British Science week which has put me in mind of what first got me interested in science and in particular how batteries work. During an experiment at school when we powered a light-bulb by sticking a nail and a penny into a lemon. Several decades later, my team at the Intellectual Property Office is responsible for checking the latest advances in battery technology, reading applicant’s proposed innovations and checking through well over 110 million patent documents to find out whether the idea is new.
There will need to be significant improvements to battery technology to efficiently produce, store and move the energy we need to transition to a greener lifestyle and economy. The government has launched the Faraday battery challenge to help support the development of cost-effective, high performance, durable, safe, low weight and recyclable batteries for the automotive industry. It is unlikely that we will uncover a one-size fits all solution, as different battery designs balance several factors which have different importance depending on their use. Lithium-ion cells are light and portable; hence they are used in cars and mobile phones. Traditional, heavy lead-acid batteries work well for back-up power for their low-cost and reliability.
Numerous innovations are promising to revolutionise the technology in the coming years and decades. There has been a lot of work carried out to improve the anodes and cathodes (the nail and the penny in the lemon) which, using graphene and silicon could theoretically expand the capacity of Lithium-ion batteries by up to ten times, but which are presenting challenges due to the degree of expansion in the charging cycle, causing damage to the cells. Speedy charging typically generates a lot of heat, and so there is also a lot of research being done on battery management systems and cooling technologies. The environmental impact of deep-sea mining for the Cobalt needed for rechargeable batteries has also recently hit the news.
Among the many patent applications we receive are likely to be the foundations of this new generation of energy storage to solve these problems. We offer accelerated processing for green technology to encourage research in these areas (https://www.gov.uk/guidance/patents-accelerated-processing#green-channel). The monopolies we grant will mean that the companies who develop these solutions will be able to profit from their research into greener power. Which it turns out, is more than just swapping the lemon for a lime.
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