The basic function of a battery is to store energy in chemical form and thereafter release it as electrical energy. Over the hundred or so years that batteries have been with us, this essential principle has never changed. If a battery does not have two terminals (one positively and one negatively charged) and an electrolyte to facilitate the transfer of that charge, then it is not a battery.
Yet however simple the technology is in principle, batteries have been constantly refined, redesigned, and innovated over the years, leading to many new battery technologies that have found applications in almost every area of modern living. And this innovation does not seem set to be slowing down any time soon. The demand for reliable, efficient, and technologically advanced batteries is huge. The general trend towards cleaner energy has made batteries (and specifically environmentally friendly batteries) a hot commodity. And as electric cars become more and more ubiquitous, the demand for efficient “smart” batteries with the ability to power a vehicle to the standard of traditional fuel engines has sharply increased.
A smart battery is one that is connected to a battery management system. A BMS is a system that measures power flowing through it and can alert users to the state of the battery – when to charge and for how long to charge. This particular technology has been around for decades and will be familiar to anyone who has ever owned a laptop. However, more advanced BMS can perform ever more complex tasks – and it is here that potential for seriously high-tech battery systems is apparent.
The Rise of the Lithium-Ion Battery
Until the early nineties, batteries (including rechargeable ones) were pretty inefficient compared to the batteries of today. The big change came with the introduction of the Lithium-ion rechargeable battery. The different substances used in the composition of such batteries allowed for higher energy density and a lower self-discharge time, meaning they could hold more power and use it more efficiently.
The introduction of Li-ion battery was probably the single biggest leap in battery technology that we have seen to date. Every battery inside a portable electronic device is a Li-ion battery. Modern high-tech rechargeable smart batteries such the USB rechargeable batteries manufactured by Pale Blue Earth, combine a highly efficient Li-ion battery with an advanced BMS, allowing for not only improved performance, but a more efficient charging schedule as well. This is where we are now, but what could the future hold?
Into the Future
There are several new battery technologies that could soon become commonplace. Some of these are genuinely revolutionary technologies whereas others are the result of continued optimization of the battery’s chemical composition. Some of these new batteries include:
Lithium seems set to stay, but there could be some new elements from the periodic table making an entrance on the battery scene. One of these is sulfur, which is used in lithium-sulfur. In these batteries there is no physical structures serving as cathodes or anodes. Instead, a store of metallic lithium is converted into a whole host of substances by reaction with sulfur, resulting in an energy density over four times that of the best batteries currently on the market.
Solid-state batteries represent a considerable structural change to the Li-ion battery. The liquid electrolyte in solid-state batteries is, as the name suggest, replaced with a solid substance that still allows the migration of lithium ions. Solid-state batteries have the potential to finally dispense with a longstanding safety concern with batteries – that they have a potentially hazardous, leakable substance inside.