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BATTERIES have steadily been getting better, but progress is slow. Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries still provide the best combination of compactness, power and efficiency for products ranging from drones to smartphones and cars. Research groups around the world are searching for more powerful batteries but none, as yet, has ventured much beyond the laboratory. Sir James Dyson (pictured), a British inventor who makes vacuum cleaners, hand-dryers and other electrical goods, says he is investing £2bn ($2.7bn) to develop an electric car which will be powered by a novel “solid-state” battery. Is this the breakthrough the world has been waiting for?It is hard for scientists to find a material better than lithium from which to make a battery for use in portable devices and transport. Lithium is a light, highly conductive metal, but inherently unstable, so it is used instead in a safer form as a compound containing lithium ions (electrically charged particles). Lithium-ion batteries are typically made as laminated structures with a material called an electrolyte at their centre. This is a liquid or gel-like substance through which the lithium ions shuttle back and forth between electrodes when the battery is charged or discharged. Manufacturing faults, damage and general wear can lead to a …

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