Wired, Lauren Goode Gear, May 22, 2018
Better batteries mean better products. They give us longer-lasting smartphones, anxiety-free electric transport, and potentially, more efficient energy storage for large-scale buildings like data centers. But battery tech is frustratingly slow to advance, due to both the chemical processes involved and the challenges that exist around commercializing new battery designs. It remains incredibly tough for even the most promising battery experiments to find their way out of research labs and into the devices we carry.
That hasn’t stopped people from trying. In recent years researchers and technologists have presented a variety of ways in which the materials in rechargeable lithium batteries—the kind in your phone right now—can be tweaked to improve battery density and, more importantly, battery safety. These technologies aren’t going to make it to market in time for the Next Big Product Launch, but as we watch our phones slurp up the last dribble of power at the end of a long day, we can dream about the future.
Complex battery technology can make even the most tech-savvy person feel like they need a PhD in chemistry to make sense of it, so here’s an attempt to break it down. Most handheld and portable electronics use lithium ion batteries, which are made up of an anode, a cathode, a separator, an electrolyte, a positive current, and a negative current. The anode and cathode are the “ends” of the battery; a charge is generated and stored when the lithium ions (carried by the electrolyte) move between the two ends of the battery.