Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : June 10th 2014 Contents A38
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Tuesday, June 10, 2014
Mobile devices have transformed our lives, giving
us the freedom to talk, work, watch and listen on
But unplugged from the mains, they only last as
long as the energy held within their batteries.
And there s the rub.
While scientists are constantly dreaming up new
ways to generate and bottle energy---from rhubarb
and paper to viruses and urine---commercial battery
technology has changed remarkably little in the past
50 years, particularly when compared with the
advances in the devices they power.
As Tim Probert, editor at Energy Storage Publishing,
says: "The battery industry is pretty conservative.
It says a lot that we are still using very old technology
like lead-acid in batteries.
"Breakthrough technologies are great but they
need a reality check---this industry is all about small,
The humble AA battery has been around since
the 1940s and is based on 19th century technology.
But it still has a 15 per cent share of the global battery
market, along with other alkaline batteries.
And the lead-acid battery, which is fundamental
to most combustion engine-powered cars, was invent-
ed more than 150 years ago and holds a 20 per cent
share of the market.
Battery industry must keep up
Clearly the battery industry, which is worth almost
US$90 billion globally, is not keeping pace with inno-
vation in consumer electronics.
Even the near-ubiquitous rechargeable lithium-
ion battery, which powers most modern gadgets,
was invented in the 1970s.
It has about a 40 per cent market share.
Electric vehicle pioneer Tesla, the brainchild of
serial entrepreneur and billionaire Elon Musk, uses
so-called 18650 lithium cells--- "essentially old laptop
batteries," according to Probert---to power its cars.
Most laptop manufacturers gave up on 18650s
long ago, but Tesla believes this old tech still has a
future, and even has plans to build its own "gigafac-
tory" to produce them.
"By choosing smaller, cylindrical cells, we have
been able to save on manufacturing costs," explains
Tesla s Laura Hardy.
"Smaller cells, which can have a better energy
density, gave us more flexibility in packaging the
cells and creating the battery pack."
By putting 7,000 of these cells together, Tesla s
Model S Sedan is able to achieve a range of up to
300 miles, considerably more than many of its com-
petitors using more advanced battery technologies.
Most other manufacturers use pouch cells, which
involve lithium cells being placed side by side like
slices of bread. The danger here is the risk of "thermal
runaway," where one cell short-circuits and produces
so much heat it sparks a ripple effect and the battery
This is thought to be what happened to Boeing s
Dreamliner passenger jet in Japan at the beginning
of last year.
New batteries on the horizon
The next generation of lithium-ion batteries will
help solve this problem by replacing flammable liquid
electrolyte with safer, solid-state components. This
type of battery is also more powerful per unit.
Some companies are also trying to develop lithi-
um-sulphur batteries, which promise to have five
times the energy of a standard lithium-ion.
Probert says UK-based Oxis Energy is making
some real progress in this area, but warns that we
should not expect a "quantum leap" any time soon.
The more realistic and exciting developments are
taking place away from pure battery technology.
The first is wireless power---charging your gadgets
without having to plug them in to the mains.
This is a market that could be worth US$5 billion
by 2016, according to IMS Research (now part of
One company pioneering this new technology is
Ossia, with its Cota remote power system. Founder
and chief executive Hatem Zeine stumbled across
the idea while researching wireless signal manage-
He discovered that a small amount of power is
transmitted alongside the radio waves, and set about
researching how best to focus the signal from
Continues on Page A39
Battery tech playing catch-up
with energy-hungry mobiles
AA batteries were standardised in the 1940 but are still widely used in many
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