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The Energy Storage Problem

Posted on November 25th, 2016 by in Chemical Manufacturing Excellence


It’s a problem companies around the world are throwing millions and millions of dollars at. Although progress is being made, things aren’t moving as quickly as many would like. Energy storage is still the limiting factor in the development of a lot of portable or wearable devices.

The question so many are trying to solve is: How can we increase the energy density of our current storage technology? How can we store more energy in less space?

But maybe, in a lot of applications, that’s not the right question to be asking.

The Real Energy Problem

There’s no doubt that significantly increasing the energy density of energy storage solutions would open up a whole range of possibilities. It’s most definitely the right challenge to be tackling in a lot of instances.

But for mobile phones and wearable technology, where the quest for improved energy storage is often pursued aggressively, maybe the problem isn’t simply that their battery capacity is not big enough.

When thinking from a stakeholder perspective, maybe the problem being addressed is that users want to be able to go longer without having to either plug their device in somewhere (and have it out of action, or at least not physically with them) or having to turn it off (and again, be without it).

Maybe the problem being addressed is one of availability. Users want their devices to be available for longer, with less down-time in between while they wait for their device to charge.

Potential Energy Solutions

While there’s more to it than that, if we take that simplistic view (which holds a lot of truth), it opens a range of different solutions.

Some of those options might include:

  • Reducing power consumption of the device
  • Increasing inbuilt battery capacity
  • Increasing the charging speed for batteries
  • Replenishing the battery without compromising availability
  • Introducing redundancy of some sort (another battery or another device)

While it seems unlikely that a viable solution to the problem would be for us to all carry around two of every device so that we’ve got one available while the other is charging, some of the other options might be more realistic.

There’s a lot of focus on increasing charging speed or inbuilt battery capacity already, and while reducing power consumption of the device is always something to consider, it seems unlikely to yield significant or sustainable results.

The other option though, of replenishing the battery without compromising availability, might be more interesting. We’ve already seen over recent years the market for external battery packs for portable electronics grow. There’s clearly a demand for such products and they are a viable solution to the problem.

There are several companies and research groups out there who are looking to dispense with the battery packs, while still taking the same approach. They’re looking to minimize portable device down-time by replenishing batteries without compromising availability, or requiring users to carry accessories or peripheral devices.

Next time, we’ll look at how they’re going to do it.


All opinions shared in this post are the author’s own.

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