Better Batteries Slow To ArriveBy Samuel Greengard | Posted 2011-10-13 Email Print
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Power-hungry devices have pushed battery technology to its limits, but next-generation solutions may be years away.
One of the biggest bugaboos of using mobile devices is coping with limited battery life. It seems that with every improvement in batteries comes new hardware, microchips and features that draw more power. The fallout: Many of us are left juggling a collection of car chargers, battery-extending smartphone cases, and an array of other gadgets and gizmos.
Today’s lithium ion batteries, which power a wide variety of consumer devices—including laptops, tablets, smartphones, iPods, GPS units and portable gaming systems—are approaching their physical limit. As a result, researchers are searching for new ways to extend battery life.
A group of researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory is developing a new type of anode—a component through which electrical current flows into a polarized device—that could dramatically improve lithium ion batteries. This anode holds eight times the charge of current batteries and maintains its capacity even after hundreds of charge-discharge cycles.
Meanwhile, Maria Strømme, professor of nanotechnology at Uppsala University in Sweden, is taking a green approach. She and a team of researchers are hoping to build a new type of lithium ion battery that has electrodes made from algae cellulose and a conducting polymer. “The materials used in today’s lithium-ion batteries come from limited resources. So we need to think about new materials,” she recently noted.
Yet another avenue that researchers are exploring is lithium sulfur (Li-S). A research team at the University of Waterloo has made some strides with the material, which could produce higher density cells that could particularly benefit the electric vehicle (EV) market. Bernd Bohr, chairman of Bosch Automotive Group in Germany, has indicated that the technology offers promise and that auto manufacturers are keeping an eye on it.
Unfortunately, all of these batteries appear to be five to 10 years away from commercial viability. Expect some incremental improvements, Deloitte notes. “Energy density should rise and prices should fall. Plus, batteries should become more durable and charge faster,” it reports. The consulting firm also noted that even a five percent annual improvement “can lead to significant gains over time.”
For now, Deloitte suggests that manufacturers focus on engineering more efficient devices that reduce power consumption. System users should dim displays and turn off unused features that consume power.