Let’s face it, batteries are terrible. They’re heavy, they catch fire, and they just don’t last long enough. Battery technology hasn’t changed much in the last few decades.
Lithium-ion batteries have reigned supreme ever since mainstream consumer products have required rechargeable batteries. These batteries were supreme when our cellular devices were used as a phone only and could last several days on a single charge. Smartphones today have so much capability and require so much energy in comparison, many smartphones today can barely last a whole day without recharging.
Smartphones are just the tip of the iceberg of electronics that run on lithium-ion batteries. Laptops, robotics, electric cars, renewable energy, health, and safety devices all rely on lithium-ion batteries. We’ve gotten by on using bigger and bigger batteries however bigger isn’t always better.
Electric cars are a prime example. Some consumers have “range anxiety” when considering whether or not to purchase an all-electric vehicle. This “anxiety” is strong enough for many to write off electric vehicles all together when purchasing their next vehicles for fear of whether they will make it to the next charging station in time. The simple solution may seem to be adding more batteries, but these batteries are extremely heavy which causes a circling problem for manufacturers. If they add more batteries, they will add weight to the vehicle which causes the vehicle to require more energy to power which comes back to needing to add more batteries to provide the extra energy. The “simple” solution really just becomes an issue instead.
With our currently available technology, we have no pathway to other resources for a solution. We can’t employ 100% renewable energy from solar, wind, water until we have better batteries to store all that energy. We can’t rely entirely on solar because we would have no power at night or on a cloudy day. We need efficient batteries to store energy overflow from when we don’t need it for when we do need it.
The Next Big Thing
This battery conundrum is not new. Billions of dollars have been spent trying to create the new next-gen battery. We have only started seeing promising prototypes from John B. Goodenough, MIT, and Samsung with solid-state batteries.
As the name suggests, a solid-state battery uses a solid electrolyte versus the liquid electrolyte lithium-ion batteries currently use. One of the main safety differences between the two batteries is that solid-state batteries are much less likely to catch fire or spontaneously combust. Additionally, solid-state batteries are 2-3 times more energy-dense, meaning they charge faster and hold more energy in comparison.
In practical terms, this means we can have a safer battery with 2-3 times the battery life, a fraction of the charge time, and less pollution since the batteries won’t have to be replaced as often.
In the terms of battery technology, we are living in yesteryear using yesterday’s technology. We can and have been making small innovative steps when we need invention. Small steps of progress are no longer keeping up with the demands of other technological leaps we have made in recent times. Without new battery tech, innovation in other fields of technology is dead.