The evolution of mobile devices and smart technology has lagged in one area – power. Although batteries are powering our devices for increasingly longer periods, battery technology advancements do not match the pace of other innovation. This presents a challenge for the auto industry with the push towards electric and hybrid vehicles.
However, Christopher Mims of The Wall Street Journal writes that we are on the cusp of major advancement in battery technology. Specifically, Mims describes changes in the basic battery components towards materials with vastly improved storage capacity. At the most basic level, lithium ion batteries contain an anode and a cathode in an electrolyte and the electrical current in the battery is generated from ions traveling from the anode to the cathode. However, a change in the material used in most current battery anodes—graphite—towards anodes incorporating silicon results in huge increases in battery capacity, up to 30%. Mims says companies will be rolling out consumer batteries with lithium-silicon batteries within two years.
This same technology will offer significant improvements in the range of electric vehicles. BMW is planning a plug in vehicle using a silicon anode in five years, and anticipated a 30% increase in vehicle range with this new technology. Other car companies are expected to follow suit. Vehicle makers hope that improved battery technology will improve electric vehicle range, reduce cost, and shorten charging times — ultimately making electric vehicles a more attractive option for buyers.
Another potential technology is solid state batteries. Solid state batteries replace the liquid electrolyte in batteries with a solid material. Paul Eisenstein of NBC reported on advances in solid state technology in January, and noted two car makers focused in developing this technology. BMW entered an “alliance” with Solid Power to explore solid state technology, and Toyota partnered with Panasonic. Eisenstein notes solid state batteries could offer “ultra-quick” charging, lower price, and smaller size than lithium ion batteries. However, they also face challenges in making the leap from lab to reality, including mass production and the hardiness required in vehicle environments.
These are by no means the only battery advancements being explored. Still others look ahead to battery technology that recharges in a small fraction of current charging time, and batteries that never die. What is clear is that manufacturers and consumers alike are driving the push for innovation in the battery technology powering so much of our lives.