A few days ago, I came across a really cool Quora question. It asked “What are the main reasons why batteries have not improved at the same rate as semiconductors?” The highest rated answer was a very helpful one by Asher Sinensky, who pointed out the difference between the makeup, useability and overall processing of the compared subjects, so by the end the reason behind the advancement discrepancy made perfect sense.
But it did get me wondering about just how much batteries have improved over time. Obviously the older models are going to have been greatly advanced since that time, and just over the last two decades we have seen improvements on both battery life, and how devices use what is charged.
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I am not that old but I still remember the time when I had to charge my phone once a day. And that was a pain because I ended up forgetting to do so and it created that annoying noise crying for food. Now with my iPhone, I don’t ever think about charging: It charges itself when being connected to my laptop through USB! And it runs for a couple of days (with me using camera, iTunes, Twitter app, etc). And my husband doesn’t think that’s enough: When will they learn to charge via air? Bluetooth?
Have there been a lot of improvements recently I just didn’t notice?
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The Recent Battery Advances
I found quite a few articles that talk about it (surprising, as I thought I would be one of the few people interested in the topic). My favorite was this two page piece by MIT Technology Review’s Kevil Bullis. What I found so fascinating was his description of electrodes released by MIT researchers three years ago. It is an interesting peek into the changes that have happened since then.
But these are car related batteries, mainly looking to improve the performance of hybrid or electric cars. What about small consumer batteries, like those powering phones? These seem to have been little advancement in that regard.
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A similar question was asked by another Quora user that provided a small bar graph that illustrated the wh/kg of different battery types. He wanted to know why advances in the battery industry haven’t happened lately. It was helpfully answered by Jason Lemkin, who co-founded battery start-up NanoGram.
Out of all of his reasons (and he gives several), I think the most intriguing and likely is the cost and risk involved in battery development. As he points out, creating batteries is incredibly difficult to do. Lithium is a dangerous substance, and many factories have gone up in flames in some of the most horrific fires you will ever see.
I would suggest checking out his response, as it really does get into the practical reasons that battery improvements are so rare. Including why the market is so difficult to break into.
What do you think about battery improvements? Have you heard of any start-ups that have promising sounding products on their way? Let us know in the comments.
[Image credit: Bryan Rosengrant, Flickr]