Power Update

Two weeks ago I wrote about power management in electronic devices. The thrust of that post was that because battery technology hasn't advanced very much it was necessary to work on the problem at the other end by making our electronics more efficient in their power use. Now the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has announced a dramatic improvement in lithium-ion batteries. As most of us know, there are two problems with the lithium-ion batteries that power cell phones, computers, and other electronic devices: they can't hold a lot of power—hence the inability of many smart phones to get through the day on a single charge—and they lose energy storage capacity after a number of charge-discharge cycles.

In a recent press release the Berkeley labs announced a dramatic improvement in both of those problems. The batteries store energy by attracting lithium ions onto the anode of the battery. This causes the anode to swell and then shrink again when the power is consumed. Because the current anodes are typically made of graphite, the constant swelling and shrinking breaks the electrical contacts in the anode and the battery is unable to hold a charge. The Berkeley folks are using a new polymer that hold up to 8 times the number of ions and is not damaged (as much) by the swelling and shrinking. After a year of testing and many hundreds of charge-discharge cycles the new batteries have held their increased energy capacity. As a bonus, the new polymer is economical.

The press release has lots of technical details and is well worth a read. We may, finally, be on the verge of batteries that hold their charges longer and don't wear out as quickly. That combined with the improvements in the efficiency of the electronics may end the battery hassles that we all endure now.

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