Digital Life

Gadget claims to charge your phone in 30 seconds with amino acids

An Israeli start-up is promising to fully charge your phone in 30 seconds.

The dissipating green rectangle hovering at the top of your screen is, for most, a major source of anxiety. Shrinking to red before fading to black, it can force you into desperate positions, like patiently huddling over a spare powerpoint, as if warming yourself near a campfire. Or worse still: briefly not using your phone.

The Storedot biological semiconductor battery prototype attached to a Samsung Galaxy S4
The Storedot biological semiconductor battery prototype attached to a Samsung Galaxy S4 Photo: Screenshot

Not anymore.

On Monday at the Think Next symposium in its hometown of Tel Aviv, StoreDot demonstrated a prototype biological battery -- roughly the size of two cigarette packs -- which charged a Samsung Galaxy S4 in about 30 seconds.

The rapidly-charging smartphone battery is fabricated with chains of amino acids known as peptides. The same naturally occurring protein building-blocks that are at the heart of professional sports' clubs controversial supplement programs.

When used to construct semiconductors for batteries, peptides charge faster and more reliably than traditional materials.

Typically a smartphone battery stores energy in structures known as quantum dots or nanodots. These can be made of inorganic semiconductors such as silicon; or other similar structures using cadmium selenide or zinc sulphide. 

In 2010 researchers Charlotte Hauser and Shuguang Zhang wrote in the journal Nature that quantum dots could be formed with other materials, including peptides. They found a number of advantages, including causing the environment less harm. More importantly, the nanodots are cheap and easy to produce at a high purity.

This is specifically useful for smartphones.

Inorganic semiconductors produce randomly structured nanodots, essentially causing the battery to degrade over time. On the other hand, peptide semiconductors create more uniform structures, time and again, giving the battery a higher efficiency and longer shelf-life.

Ben Powell, associate professor at the University of Queensland, said that researchers take inspiration from, and steal, biology tricks that have evolved over millions of years.

"There are a number of things biology does really well that we don't do in our manufacturing tech," Mr Powell said. "The biological system is very good at controlling the way the nanodots set. Whereas when we make things it's very difficult for us to control that."

Mr Powell admitted that there's a few obstacles before these batteries can be mass manufactured. Inorganic semiconductors require high temperatures and chemicals whereas peptide-based materials can be fabricated at room temperature using water.

"I don't know if those biotech facilities exist on a large scale. The big tech companies are not set up to do this at the moment."

However, it will still be some time before you can charge your phone in a timeframe quicker than it takes to turn it on.

StoreDot CEO Dr Doron Myersdorf told TechCrunch that a functional prototype, sitting inside the device, was a year away. He said that people wanting to buy it in stores would have to wait at least three years.

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