You’re probably familiar with electrolytes. They’re what your body desperately needs when too much exercise (or drinking) leaves you dehydrated.

What many people don’t know is that electrolytes are needed to power more than just our muscles. Because electrolytes conduct electricity, they’re also an integral part of battery design. Unfortunately, traditional batteries are quite inefficient, and even rechargeable batteries don’t last forever.

Designing a smarter battery is extremely important as we shift toward renewable energy, because it will allow us to sustainably-generated power for later use, and extend the range for electric vehicles. Until recently, advances in battery technology were hampered by the shortcomings of existing battery electrolytes, but a promising Colorado startup called Boulder Ionics claims to have developed a new style of electrolyte that’s more durable and cheaper to produce.

The company’s novel high-throughput synthesis process produces electrochemical-grade ionic liquids in minutes rather than days. This dramatic reduction in processing time enables a very low capital cost for the production equipment, minimizes labor costs, and improves safety.

“Replacing conventional electrolytes with ionic liquids could double the energy storage capacity of ultracapacitors by allowing them to be charged to higher voltages,” Jerry Martin, founder and CEO of Boulder Ionics, told Technology Review. “That could make it possible to replace a starter battery in a car with a battery the size of a flashlight.”

The good news is that unlike solar farms and electric vehicles, which need lots of accompanying infrastructure changes in order to be cost-effective, this new type of electrolyte could be dropped into existing battery manufacturing processes. As an instant-substitute, companies would be able to immediately begin producing cheaper, more powerful batteries without major changes to their existing production lines.

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