Article: How EV battery research has created a battery fit for a lightsaber

Introduction to Lightsaber Lore

Few objects have captured our imagination the way lightsabers have. The iconic weapon from a galaxy far, far away has become a symbol of battles between good and evil, light and dark. The glowing blade is instantly recognizable and reveals the nature of its wielder. Lightsaber color identifies whether they are seeking peace and harmony as a Jedi, or strength and power as a Sith. These colors, and the blade itself flow from a Kyber crystal in the hilt which powers the weapon [2].

The lightsaber blade is an energized plasma capable of cutting through most any material [3].  Traditionally, Jedi go on a quest very early in life to find the crystal and build their first lightsaber.  Kyber crystals are said to be Force-sensitive and bond with the Jedi who wield their power; taking on a color based on the nature of the individual Jedi.  Kyber crystals can also be subjugated through the Force in the case of a Sith or dark-side user, which causes the crystal to turn red [4].

The Force is a “mysterious energy field created by life that binds the galaxy together.”  Those who are sensitive to the energy of the Force like Jedi and Sith are granted powerful abilities.  The Force is also known to have a will of its own, which is not fully understood by scholars [5].

We know lightsabers need to be re-charged on occasion since the Star Wars Visual Dictionary reveals they have external charging ports, and Qui-Gon tells Obi-Wan in Episode 1, “You forgot to turn your [lightsaber] power off again didn’t you?  It won’t take long to recharge, but this is a lesson I hope you’ve learned…” [6] This confirms they contain a rechargeable energy storage device (battery).  In the Star Wars universe, we know this energy storage source as a “diatium power cell” [7, 8], but how does it compare to our lithium-ion battery technology today?  How close are we to being able to power the iconic weapon that has captured our imagination for over 4 decades?

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999) Directed by George Lucas. Performances by Ewan McGregar and Liam Neeson. Via starwars.com [9]


Lightsaber’s belonging to (L to R) Qui-Gon Jinn, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Anakin Skywalker. Star Wars Episode I: The Visual Dictionary, and Star Wars The Visual Dictionary by Dr. David West Reynolds

Analyzing the Lightsaber

previous study by Dr. Rhett Allain calculated the amount of energy required by a lightsaber using the scene from Star Wars Episode I, where Qui Gon Jinn is cutting through a large metal door.  The thermal energy needed to melt steel or other hypothetical material can be calculated.  Liberal estimates have been used since we do not know the true material properties of the blast doors, nor do we know how long it would take to cut through the door.  The generous estimates used to calculate the power requirements for the lightsaber yield ~2.016×10^8 J of energy and 28kW of power [10].

A battery with this power small enough to fit in a lightsaber hilt is far beyond any technology we have today in our milky way galaxy.  However, these studies fail to account for a key component in the lightsaber and icon of the Star Wars universe: Kyber crystals.  Accounting for the Kyber crystal creates a very different picture which may be closer to reality than we thought.  Kyber crystals do not generate energy, but they exponentially amplify and channel energy through the Force so lightsabers only need a small diatium power cell for operation.

The [internal battery] is only needed to provide marginal energy to activate a lightsaber, conceptually similar to how a battery and spark plug initiates the engine of a car.


Kyber Crystal & The Force

Since Kyber crystal’s channel and amplify Force energy, the battery (diatium power cell) in a lightsaber is not required to meet the power demands alone.  It is only needed to provide marginal energy for activation, conceptually similar to how a battery and spark plug initiates the engine of a car.  This also explains why non-Force users can wield a lightsaber without channeling the Force since the crystal and lightsaber will still have a marginal amount of energy from the diatium power cell, but only a true Jedi or Sith bound with the Force can unleash the full potential of the weapon.

Their connection to the Force is what allows Kyber crystals to power the lightsaber’s plasma blade and the magnetic field that contains it.  Once a lightsaber is activated from the energy stored in the diatium power cell, Kyber crystals act as a conduit to power the weapon through the Force and continually recharge the internal power cell (battery).

Humanity has not yet discovered a crystal capable of channeling a nearly limitless source of cosmic energy like the Force, but a recent study [11] published in Wiley’s Angewandte Chemie (Applied Chemistry) scientific journal has shown a new type of crystals known as “CBGO” that are over 13x more efficient than widely used potassium dihydrogen phosphate crystals.  CBGO crystals are capable of “causing abrupt changes to energy that passes through them,” and can double the frequency of a laser beam [12].  This supports the concept of the “right” crystal being able to amplify energy to power a great weapon.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) Directed by Gareth Edwards. Performances by Spencer Wilding. Via TheForce.net [13]

We do not know exactly how the Force works in the Star Wars universe, but we have several examples to help measure its power.  Dr. Rhett Allain calculates the power displayed by Darth Vader through the Force to lift people [14], and engineer Randall Munroe calculates the power Yoda used to lift Luke’s X-Wing fighter out of the swamps of Dagobah [15].  These two cases show 3kW and 19.2kW of power, respectively.  This is already close to the 28kW of power needed by Qui Gon Jinn to cut through the blast door with his lightsaber in The Phantom Menace; further confirming it is primarily powered by the Kyber crystal channeling cosmic energy from the Force, not the diatium power cell.

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) Directed by Irvin Kershner. Performances by Frank Oz. Via starwars.com [16]

Therefore, the question about Earth’s battery technology to power a lightsaber is not about power density to pack 28kW in the size of a flashlight, but cycle life since lightsaber “batteries” can be recharged, but are expected to last more than a lifetime.

The question of battery technology to power a lightsaber is not about energy density to pack 28kW in the size of a flashlight, but cycle life.


Battery Trends Lead by Electric Vehicle (EV) Research

The batteries that power our gadgets here on Earth have historically been limited to 100’s of cycles or in the low 1000’s in some extreme cases.  This limit of cycle life is not sufficient for a lightsaber, nor is it sufficient for modern electric vehicles and grid storage applications facing us today.  Over the past decade tremendous advancements have been made with lithium-ion and other battery chemistries.  Researchers are aiming for batteries with cycle life in the 10,000’s and 100,000’s range, which would begin to match the performance seen from lightsabers.

One of the biggest challenges to battery researchers is how long it can take to test a battery that is expected to last 10,000+ cycles.  When a battery was only expected to last 1000 cycles, traditionally it would be tested for a few hundred charge/discharge cycles to give an accurate prediction of life, however, now that batteries need to last 10,000+ cycles, using conventional charge/discharge cycles to estimate cell degradation becomes too time consuming and bottlenecks the development process.  Advancements in battery technology have been relatively slow over the past decade in part due to how long it takes to perform research on new materials and predict battery degradation over a lifetime of 10,000+ cycles.


A New Hope

There is hope!  Not only have EV battery researchers been working on new battery materials, they have also been working on new methods to test batteries to speed up the development process.  Ford Motors partnered with battery test equipment manufacturer, Arbin Instruments, and Sandia National Lab to develop and utilize new “high-precision battery test equipment” that would be capable of seeing the smallest changes happening in a battery [17,18].

This breakthrough in battery test equipment technology [19] has made new test methods and data analysis possible.  Seeing the smallest changes happening in a battery allows both researchers and AI [20] to create new and improved metrics for battery prediction very early in its life and accelerate the process of bring new battery materials to market.

Drive provide for EV battery packEV battery testing has also trended away from constant charge/discharge cycles and more to very dynamic real-world cycle profiles including temperature control.  Studies have shown that batteries must be tested in a way consistent to their eventual application to gain an accurate prediction of their long-term performance [21].  Electric vehicle applications have been one of the strongest driving forces behind battery research over the past decade.  Therefore, governments around the world have created several standardized, but highly dynamic cycle profiles used to test electric vehicle batteries [22].  Most EV manufacturers have also developed their own real-world test profiles and metrics to evaluate their battery technology.

New battery materials beyond lithium-ion are also being studied.  Silicon, Sodium, Sulfur, solid state batteries, and metal-air batteries are all receiving attention in recent years as possible next-generation solutions.  A recent breakthrough in metal-air batteries has improved the battery cycle life from <100 to over 3,000 [23].  This is merely one example of the many brilliant scientists who are continually expanding the boundaries of battery chemistry and performance.  Continued technical leaps like this are what we need to reach the goals for EV batteries, and lightsaber cycle life.


So, Do We Have the Battery Technology for A Lightsaber?

We have learned the following:

  • Lightsabers are powered by a Kyber crystal, and their internal energy storage source (diatium power cell) is merely used for activating the plasma blade, not powering it.
  • The internal diatium power cell of a lightsaber is rechargeable.
  • Diatium power cells must have tremendous cycle life to outlast many of their wielders (at least 50-100 years).
  • The need for longer-lasting EV batteries over the past decade has raised cycle life goals similar to what lightsaber’s require.
  • One of the main challenges for longer-lasting batteries is how long it takes to test during the development process to predict 10,000+ cycles of life.
  • The US government and leading industrial players [Ford, Arbin, Sandia] have supported major technological advancements in the test equipment used by battery researchers over the past 5 years that will accelerate the development process and cycle life metrics.
  • True high-precision battery test equipment allows researchers to see trends and signs of degradation early in testing that are not discernible with inferior test equipment.

The conclusion is a conditional yes, modern lithium-ion and other advanced chemistry batteries can achieve the cycle life required by a lightsaber and are only improving.  The rate of improvement is expected to increase as true high-precision test equipment becomes more widely used, and as AI begins to analyze data.  However, lightsabers will still require a Kyber crystal to amplify and channel cosmic energy of the Force, which has not yet been discovered in our galaxy.

Contact Caltest for more information

Managing Director
Simon Harman
Email: simon.harman@caltest.co.uk
Web: caltest.co.uk
Tel: +44 (0) 1483 302 700 ext 3344

Arbin Instruments is the leading manufacturer of true high-precision battery test equipment, and the only source when battery currents are greater than 2A.  Leading industry partners around the world are utilizing this technology to accelerate battery research.  Learn more about how advanced battery test equipment empowers new research on Arbin’s website:  https://www.arbin.com/evaluating-battery-test-equipment-intro/.

Contact Caltest for more information


SOURCES

[1]  https://starwars.fandom.com/wiki/Duel_on_Cloud_City
[2]  https://www.starwars.com/databank/lightsaber
[3]  https://starwars.fandom.com/wiki/Lightsaber
[4]  https://starwars.fandom.com/wiki/Kyber_crystal
[5]  https://www.starwars.com/databank/the-force
[6]  https://www.imsdb.com/scripts/Star-Wars-The-Phantom-Menace.html
[7]  https://entertainment.howstuffworks.com/lightsaber3.htm
[8]  https://starwars.fandom.com/wiki/Lightsaber_hilt
[9]  https://www.starwars.com/databank/obi-wan-kenobi-biography-gallery
[10]  https://www.wired.com/2010/02/power-source-for-a-lightsaber/
[11]  https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/ange.201909735
[12]  https://www.scmp.com/news/china/science/article/3025642/could-these-crystals-be-next-leap-forward-chinas-laser
[13]  http://www.theforce.net/story/front/interview_spencer_wilding_darth_vader_rogue_one_177773.asp
[14]  https://www.wired.com/2017/05/literally-calculate-power-force/
[15]  https://what-if.xkcd.com/3/
[16]  https://www.starwars.com/news/7-of-yodas-greatest-moments
[17]  https://arpa-e.energy.gov/?q=impact-sheet/ford-motor-company-amped
[18]  https://chargedevs.com/features/arbins-new-battery-testing-equipment-offers-a-glimpse-into-the-future-with-ultra-high-precision/
[19]  https://www.arbin.com/evaluating-battery-test-equipment-intro/
[20]  https://www.arbin.com/researchers-use-arbin-predict-battery-life-using-ai/
[21]  https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/7962933
[22]  https://www.arbin.com/battery-test-applications-electric-vehicle/
[23]  https://www.nature.com/articles/s41563-019-0286-7

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