How The Batteries We Know Are Limiting Technology Breakthrough: The Challenges

Whether you're accessing the internet, playing your favorite games or working, chances are you're using some kind of device to make that happen.

Regardless your device, it needs electricity to function. From desktop PCs to laptops, mobile devices, smartwatches, they all utilize some kind of power source, most notably: batteries.

As the internet and other technological advances are experiencing explosive growth, we can see that most of those new technologies are still relying on the same method of energy storage. Batteries have come a long way before the era of mobile devices, and they have not changed all that much.

Typical battery technologies that power our devices, are still fundamentally the same as they are decades ago.

This stagnation is limiting advancements, as it puts a cap on several technologies that might otherwise advance forward.

The first production of Nickel-cadmium began in 1940s. The technology was dominant, all the way through the 1980s and early 1990s. But after Asahi Kasei and Sony commercialized the first lithium-ion battery, the technology quickly became the dominant type. Inside Lithium-ion batteries, energy density that can be stored is more than a double, if compared to the standard Nickel-cadmium equivalent. That with potential for even higher energy densities.

It has similar behavior and stable. It can run on single cell, rather a operating in series, has low maintenance and a lower self-discharge.

There are drawbacks though: Lithium-ion batteries are more fragile, has safety hazards since they contain a flammable electrolyte and may be kept pressurized, and require protection circuits. But still, they are efficient.

But with the advance of technology, there are demands of better batteries. But to make one happen, there are challenges of evolving batteries. They include, and not limited to, the following:

  • Options: Besides Li-ion batteries, there are many other possibilities. But with so many choices, it's difficult to know which has the best potential for a long-term replacement.
  • Cost: Developing next generation batteries costs a lot. There aren't many investors that want to bet their money on a technology that has a small a chance of being successful.
  • Development: Long-term testing doesn't promise a full understanding of the technology. Li-ion batteries that caught fire, notably on Samsung's Note 7, was an example that we know a little about the batteries we manufacture. Any new battery technology would require even higher standards, resulting in additional years of research and development.
  • Scale: Technology that looks good on a micro level, won't always perform great at a macro level. This may result in instability, less efficiency or other criteria that makes it unsuitable for commercial use.

There are also other problems that need to be addressed. For example, making batteries that can have higher level of watts power, as well as watt-hour energy, increasing capacity without having to increase battery size significantly, disposal and recycling issues, as well as others.

And until that moment when we can really evolve Li-ion batteries, battery producers, companies and other organizations will continue to improve the standard model, not only for a long-term but also making it safer. Research areas for Li-ion batteries include life extension, energy density, safety, cost reduction and charging speed, among others.

Even if the improvements are small, considering the technology behind Li-ion is decades old, but as long as there are advances, the moment we can really evolve battery technologies will unfold.

Further reading: Why Are Your Devices Getting Slower Over Time? It's Natural, And It's Because Of You