What will happen after batteries?

Batteries have been around for a long time. The earliest example is an artifact discovered in Baghdad, known as the Parthian Battery and is speculated to be approximately 2,000 years old.1

The basic chemistry of batteries has remained consistent over the last 215 years when scientists such as Alessandro Volta re-discovered and experimented with battery technology.

A big breakthrough in batteries came with the prevalence of Lithium-ion chemistry. Today, mobile technology is inextricable from the performance and life-cycle of “Li-ion”batteries.

It’s easy to find yourself living like some kind of electric hummingbird, plugging into every available energy “flower” just to keep the buzz going.

A few weeks ago I had one of Samsung’s (former) chief mobile designers at my bar. We started chatting about technology and I mentioned that I was an aspiring tech writer with a knack for calling trends.

He asked me what I thought was the next big thing.

I responded that we need a breakthrough in batteries before we’ll see the next leap in mobile technology.

He nodded and shared that battery technology was a hot topic for everyone in the mobile device world… 2 years ago.

“We’ve pushed the chemistry as far as it can go. We can put out 3.5 Amps from a battery that’s a few millimeters thick, by 30 millimeters wide, by 70 millimeters long. ”

He did concede that power will still be an important frontier, but in terms of efficiency and the use of photovoltaics, particularly transparent films that could harvest power from any light – the way most cheap calculators do.

I asked him about the possible impact that graphene could have, but he wasn’t familiar with the material or its properties.

I respect his insider’s perspective, yet I still find it hard to believe that batteries are as good as they will get, especially since they haven’t changed fundamentally since their inception.

  1. http://batteryuniversity.com/learn/article/when_was_the_battery_invented ↩︎
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4 thoughts on “What will happen after batteries?

  1. So speculate, Zac. Think like a sci-fi writer, a futurist. What do you think could or will come along next? A completely new type of battery that uses different materials and thus functions more efficiently? I expect that R&D people have already tried every combination that current materials science provides, but that field itself is always pushing forward and creating new stuff with new properties.

    How about a miniature power source that doesn’t just store energy potential, like a battery, but produces it, like a small electrical generator? I know that sounds like sheer fantasy, but look at the strides in electronic miniaturization since the vacuum tube, or in computer memory storage and function capacity since the building-size computers of the 1950s, or the complete reinvention of stored data from bulky books, vinyl records, and celluloid film to highly compressed digital form. Breakthroughs happen all the time that change the very foundations of standard technology in given areas, and they are happening at an accelerating rate.

    I look forward to reading more of your thoughts on these issues!

    ~David D.G.

    • Thanks for the comment David! Keep them coming. I love the admonishment to think like a sci-fi writer. I’m still waiting for the day when Orson Scott Card’s ansible becomes a reality. I think you’re onto to something with miniaturized power generation. On the other hand, in a scenario that incorporates photovoltaics, there is still issues of energy storage (I need to use my phone in the dark, or can’t access a decent photon source) – for that reason, I don’t think batteries will be made obsolete, and I hopeful that breakthroughs are still possible for the tech.

  2. I’ve wondered before about the possibility of generating energy through harmonics. Light comes and goes, but sound waves are always available to generate motion, vibration, even friction. Perhaps someday some combination of material or solution will be able to capture harmonic energy and convert it into other forms. Wouldn’t it be cool to have a phone that charges itself from your voice as you talk on it?

    • That would absolutely be awesome. Energy is everywhere in some form or another and we haven’t really tapped into all the ways to convert it into more useful forms.

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