All About Battery Life (Part 3)

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Batteries Everywhere

The conventional thinking is that the battery is an object in the device that you can easily identify and, if the manufacturer agrees, even replace yourself. However, that’s far from what a team at Rice University have been developing using traditional battery chemistry.

In their concept, the battery is assembled by spraying the components onto any surface, allowing simple household objects to hold a charge. In one of their prototype designs, they’ve taken a simple house tile, applied a photo-voltaic cell to one side and sprayed a battery to the other. The concept is that a house could be covered in these, providing both a means to capture power but also store it for future use.

Batteries Everywhere

What’s exciting about this concept is that it could remove the battery as a part for which space needs to be made in any device, but instead it could be a coating that’s made to any internal surface, irrespective of shape.

Final Thoughts

As much as extended battery life seems both desirable and inevitable, there are some issues with this happening, which haven’t been addressed and might prove contentious.

The definition of a future battery might be a compact object containing a chemical compound that can be rapidly altered to release a large amount of energy, which, oddly enough, is also the characterization of a bomb.

With high explosives, the chemical change that occurs is generally very rapid oxidization, and in the battery it’s the transfer of ions, but you can see the problem. With the restrictions already imposed on what items you’re allowed to take in your carry-on luggage for international flights, an energy cell that, if modified, released all its power in a split second would seem an obvious candidate for banning.

batteries recycling

If it proves possible to contain the amperes that a car battery can hold in a laptop battery, then that’s a clearly viable weapon, however the power contained inside it might be used.

For exactly the same reasons, fuel cell technology might also prove a difficult sell to airlines and the international travelers who use them.

These difficulties also point to a major litigation source, should very high capacity batteries have a manufacturing-based failure, as laptop batteries have experienced in the past. In these incidents, electrical shorting inside the cells caused them to become very hot and act like an incendiary, destroying the device. Some similar incidents have occurred with phones, leaving the owners with minor burns.

It doesn’t take much imagination to consider how much worse the outcome of these failures might be if the batteries contained five or ten times the power. A fault that was determined to be design- or manufacturing-based could open the originating manufacturer to personal injury claims that would run into billions of dollars, depending how many customers were affected.

So in our efforts to go further for longer, we might actually open up an entirely different Pandora’s box, where having to charge your smartphone each day is the least of our worries.

I’m not pouring cold water on the idea entirely; I’m just pointing out that making the technology work isn’t the final hurdle that super-batteries might need to overcome.

The challenge for electronics designers is to create a technology where battery capacity is large but physical scale is small, that can recharge rapidly but discharge much less rapidly, and that isn’t environmentally harmful. If that sounds difficult, then it’s probably a good reflection of why we’ve waited so long for longer battery life and how getting all those opposing priorities to balance might prove almost impossible.

However it’s achieved, batteries will hold more charge, charge faster and deliver more efficient power. Unfortunately, history suggests we’ll come up with even more ways to use the devices they power and, as such, it might be that we’ve eaten that lunch before it even arrives at the table.

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