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Friday, July 27, 2012

An article taking a look at the development of batteries over the years.
Compared to other technological developments of the 20th and 21st centuries the development of the battery has been relatively slow in comparison. The issues of size, weight and toxicity are still with us.  With the imperative to build ever cleaner vehicles and more energy efficient mobile devices the drive is on to find the Holy Grail; a battery that is light, clean to produce, has a high yet sustained output and also has the ability to be recharged many thousands of times. Impossible? 

Battery output increases by 6% a year

There have been great strides in the miniaturisation of the transistor and the integrated circuit board yet the proportions of everything from music players to cars is determined by the size and shape of the battery. Improvements have largely arisen from more energy efficient screens and components. In contrast batteries improve years on year by an average of 6%. 
Current battery technologies available include; Lithium Ion (Li-ion) , Nickel Cadmium (NiCd), Nickel-Metal Hydride (NiMH), Lithium Ion Polymer (Li-ion polymer) and Lead Acid. Of those the NiCd includes toxic metals but has a relatively long life. It's applications include power tools and professional TV cameras. Lithium Ion is most often used in smartphones and tablets. While it has a high energy density it suffers in the longevity stakes. Another version of Lithium Ion uses Polymers and this has the advantage of being moulded into slim and unusual shapes which is advantageous for ultra-thin phones. 

We still rely on the principles of 1800's technology

While these advances are interesting it doesn't get away from the fact that batteries rely on the same basic chemical process that was invented all the way back in the 1800's. For any battery to match the internal combustion engine or mains electricity it must improve its range. For the foreseeable future this does not look possible. Research continues in niche areas whereby batteries have specific applications. Sony has developed a biological battery that uses enzymes to break down Carbohydrates, the waste product being sugar. In other areas scientists at MIT are using genetically engineered viruses in tandem with carbon nanotubes to emulate the processes of Lithium Ion batteries. The main advantage being that the battery is as efficient as current LI-ion cells yet is cheaper and much more environmentally friendly to produce. 
Further developments in Nano technology hold promise certainly in aspects of output and the speed of recharging. The humble capacitor is also getting a revamp. Historically used to give an initial burst of electricity in televisions and microwaves a new ultra version is proving to be a hit in hybrid vehicles. They also have the advantages of being lighter and more economical over the long term.

No Silver bullet

There is no silver bullet in sight that will be the panacea to our energy requirements but through a combination of Nano tech, bio engineering and industrial design there will be some very interesting developments in the next 10 to 20 years.

Author Bio:
Gerry Mahon shares his keen interests on the future of batteries on behalf of 
Granada Batteries Ltd

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