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Surpassing The Limits Of Battery Technology

Posted on November 4th, 2016 by in Chemical Manufacturing Excellence

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The latest developments in technology, consumer electronics and even transport frequently rely on advanced battery technology and energy storage. We’re really pushing the limits of what’s possible with current energy storage technology and have been doing so for some time. Unfortunately, as Samsung spectacularly demonstrated earlier this year, sometimes those limits are pushed too far.

While there is a range of different requirements which are driving the advancement of battery technology, the attribute most under pressure is power density. It’s that, more than anything else, which becomes a limiting factor for products which incorporate some sort of energy storage. And as such, there is significant investment in developing ways of getting more power out of smaller, lighter batteries.

The Limits Of Technology

In July the Solar Impulse 2 (Si2) aircraft became the first to complete a round-the-world solar flight. The batteries on board, which were mainly used to power the aircraft at night, made up more than a quarter of the aircraft’s total weight. That weight burden placed serious limitations on the capacity of the aircraft to carry cargo or additional passengers.

If the concept of electric flight, which plenty or research groups around the world are looking into, is ever to be realized those issues will need to be overcome and a significant improvement in the power density of batteries will have to be made.

There are plenty of other industries in which battery technology is a limiting factor in product design and capability too: electric vehicles, remote sensors, mobile phones and other personal electronic devices. While the existing technology is continuing to be developed and improved, many think there will need to be a disruptive innovative change to make possible some of the technologies of the future.

What Went Wrong At Samsung?

The issues experienced by Samsung earlier this year are perhaps a good indicator of the pressure companies are under to meet market demands when it comes to modern batteries. In competing for market share and launching a product trying to compete with Apple’s latest release, Samsung have clearly made some mistakes.

A malfunction which caused the battery in the Galaxy Note 7 to explode has resulted in one of the biggest and most expensive consumer technology recalls in history. Although the exact reasons for this malfunction are still not clear (or at least, not publicly clear), there are plenty of theories about the “fast-charging” capabilities of the device or the design and layout of its components being to blame.

Whatever the cause of the problem, it’s clear that we’re now really pushing the limits of what’s possible with Lithium-Ion batteries. Size, weight, power density and ability to charge quickly are attributes which have to be traded off against each other – it’s just not possible to optimize everything (as is the case for most things).

What Next?

While there are certainly benefits coming from the huge investments in Litium-Ion battery research and development around the world, there’s also a big opportunity in tackling the problems and limitations of current battery technology in a different way. Some organizations are focusing on alternative chemical solutions, while others are taking a more “out of the box” approach.

We’ll look next time are some of the potential game changers which could become reality over the next few years.


 

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

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