The Unending Hunt For The Perfect Battery

Batteries are a huge business that keeps getting bigger.  Every year, billions of batteries are produced and sold to every part of the world. Therefore, improvements to batteries have a big economic impact. 

What makes a battery good?

In assessing the quality and performance of batteries, crucial factors such as voltage, discharge curve, capacity, energy density, power density, temperature behavior, cycle life, shelf life, and safety play pivotal roles. This applies to electric vehicles like scooters and cars and ensures optimal functioning in various technological applications.

Batteries with higher voltage, like 3.7 volts, provide more power. But some get used up inside the battery. An even discharge means steady voltage as the battery loses power. This gives consistent energy output.

  • Theoretical capacity is based on the chemicals used. But real capacity is lower due to inactive ingredients. Lighter batteries with more capacity per weight work better.
  • How much energy packs into a battery’s size/weight affects how long it runs before recharging.
  • A battery’s power per weight fits different uses.
  • Temperature changes chemical rates, impacting voltage and capacity. Extreme cold/heat also causes problems.
  • Rechargeables lose capacity over time. Cycle life ratings estimate how many uses before dropping to 80%.
  • Shelf life ratings estimate time sitting unused before capacity falls to 80%.
  • Mishandling can damage batteries. Protective designs prevent issues like leaks.

The 3 most common types of batteries are:

  1. Alkaline batteries: These single-use batteries give an affordable energy solution for devices needing less power.
  2. Lithium-ion batteries: Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries store lots of energy for their size and often run consumer electronics needing more power.
  3. Lead acid batteries: Lead batteries efficiently supply sudden big power demands. This makes them useful for cars and backup power systems that require lots of starting power.

Why do we need higher-capacity batteries?

Battery capacity tells how much energy a battery can hold. It’s measured in watt-hours or milliamp-hours. A battery with more capacity can store more energy and power your devices for longer before recharging. 

More battery capacity will lead directly to longer runtimes for electronics between charges. For electric cars, it would mean being able to drive farther before needing to plug in. It would enable smaller devices like phones and watches to have fewer issues with running out of juice by the end of the day. 

Devices could be made even more feature-rich and powerful if the battery hurdle was cleared. Higher-density batteries could facilitate wider clean energy adoption.

What challenges are there to developing higher-capacity batteries?

As more people buy gadgets and cars that use batteries, battery makers have big problems trying to make more batteries. 

One issue is getting enough of the metals like lithium and cobalt that they put in batteries because most of those metals come from countries with political troubles. So the supply of those battery parts isn’t steady. 

Battery companies also have to invest a lot of money to build new factories, fund research to keep improving, and train skilled workers. Making batteries takes specialized equipment and meticulous manufacturing, which is complicated and pricey. 

Batteries are big and heavy, so moving lots from factories to customers is hard. Companies should build factories near where customers buy batteries – that way, batteries don’t have to go so far. When factories make more batteries fast, checking that each battery works gets harder. But it’s important to sell only good batteries, not bad ones.

Lastly, making many batteries uses energy and resources that get dug up, hurting the environment and people near mines.

Promising technologies

Let’s be honest. Our phones and laptops run out of power too fast. Electric cars can’t go very far before needing a recharge. New kinds of batteries are being invented to fix these problems. 

NanoBolt batteries: They charge faster and store more power. That’s because their design gives more space for electricity to flow in and out.

Zinc-manganese oxide batteries: Researchers found these can hold more energy without costing more. So they could replace batteries in cars and power grids.

Organosilicon batteries: They use a safer material to not catch fire or blow up as quickly. They are suitable for consumer electronics.

Gold nanowire gel batteries: The gel electrolyte makes them not combustible like liquid ones. And they last through many more charging cycles.

TankTwo string cell batteries: For electric cars, have small cells that can quickly be swapped out to “refuel” in minutes instead of hours.

When can we expect to see higher-capacity batteries in commercial products?

New batteries with more capacity should appear in products over the next few years. One type is solid-state batteries, which use solid materials instead of liquids inside. 

These may store more energy while charging faster and being safer. Another kind is sodium-ion batteries. They could be made cheaply at large scales by 2023. But these new types still need to improve to power electric cars well.

Other new batteries being worked on use iron instead of lithium, mainly for backup power storage, not cars and devices. While exciting discoveries happen in labs first, it takes years to produce them commercially. 

Factories must be built, manufacturing planned out, and testing done. So, technologies often take 5-10 years, from early experiments to gadgets and vehicles you can purchase. Improvements will keep happening bit by bit.

Summing up

In short, scientists are steadily improving key battery characteristics like capacity, safety, lifespan, and charging speed. However, turning lab ideas into commercial products takes major testing and large capital investments. Still, capacities could double in a decade. This means less dead phone and laptop batteries.

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