Quantum Batteries May Enable New Class of Energy Storage by Disrupting Time

In a typical battery, charged ions zip one way through a sea of ​​other particles as the battery recharges, before racing back in the other direction to release stored energy. on cue.

The ions bounce back and forth, some deflected along the way, until the battery’s capacity is depleted, and it loses energy too quickly to be used.

But physicists, good at them, are imagining new ways to store energy in portable portable devices by drawing on a strange quantum phenomenon that spins time, among other things. common events.

“Current batteries for low-power devices, such as smartphones or sensors, typically use chemicals such as lithium to store charge, while a quantum battery uses microscopic particles such as arrays of atoms,” explained Yuanbo Chen, a physics graduate student at the University of. Tokyo.

In their latest work, Chen teamed up with physicist Gaoyan Zhu of the Beijing Computational Science Research Center, part of the China Academy of Engineering Physics, and colleagues to test the idea of ​​creating a quantum battery that allows the simultaneous charging stages, thereby improving energy. storage and thermal efficiency.

“While chemical batteries are governed by the classical laws of physics, microscopic particles are quantum in nature, so we have the opportunity to explore ways of using them that bend or even break our intuitive assumptions. idea of ​​what happens on smaller scales,” Chen said.

Chen, Zhu and colleagues are certainly not the first group to think about how a quantum battery might work, but they put their ideas to the test in a lab bench set-up full of spaced-out lasers, lenses, and mirrors.

In 2019, a group of researchers based in Canada laid out a blueprint for a quantum battery that never loses its charge. Their idea, which is still entirely theoretical, depends on a different quantum mechanism: one that involves the attraction of quantum components into a ‘dark state’ where matter does not interact, or dissipates. -an in the strength of, around it.

The method of Zhu and colleagues follows from a quantum phenomenon known as superposition, which is often remembered for quantum computing, and where particles exist in a chaotic possible states until the moment they are measured.

This overlay of possibilities also disrupts the natural order of time, researchers have recently shown.

In classical physics and everyday life, events can only happen in a linear fashion or fixed order. Think of the cause before the effect, or the event A (the flick of the switch) before the event B (the light turns on).

In the quantum realm, however, that linear order breaks down and superposition allows events to occur on two parallel paths at once. In a way, it disturbs the time because an event that follows another can also influence the outcome of the event as it happened before, because the two sequence of events, A before the B and B before A, are simultaneously true.

“Simply put, it turns out that the laws of quantum mechanics allow quantum superposition of causal orders,” explained Zhu and colleagues.

To use that for energy storage, the researchers realized this amazing process using a quantum switch, tested a few different charger configurations, and created a system that can pull from both chargers simultaneously.

Illustration of the experimental set-up of a network of lasers, lenses and mirrors.
The set-up of lasers, lenses and mirrors used in lab experiments. (Zhu et al., Physical Review Letters2023)

“We’ve shown that the way you charge a battery made up of quantum particles can affect its performance,” Chen said. “We see significant gains in both the energy stored in the system and the thermal efficiency.”

“Furthermore, we revealed a counterintuitive effect that a relatively less powerful charger guarantees a charged battery with more energy at a higher efficiency,” the researchers reported their paper.

While this quantum ‘battery’ is more like a network of lasers on a lab bench, and is years away from any practical applications, it’s still a cool demonstration of the underlying principles and what will be possible in the future if it is not already. happened before.

The study was published in Physical Review Letters.

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