Power Solutions

Mobile world: A global race is on to win at battery tech

Arguably no one has ever been popular at parties for talking about batteries and yet so many people complain about them, especially with smartphones. Whether we like it or not, batteries are going to become even more important if we want to continue to enjoy wireless living, and increasingly, electric-powered driving.

Recent estimates suggest that by 2030, 50 percent of vehicle production will be electric or plug-in hybrid electric and smartphone ownership is growing again, with IDC claiming that smartphone shipments are forecast to reach 1.53 billion units in 2017 and grow to 1.77 billion in 2021. Notebook PCs too, continue to flourish, with 7.5 percent year-on-year growth, according to IDC. The demand for new and more powerful batteries will be unrelenting. Throw-in the fact that in the UK at least, around 600 million batteries are thrown away each year and it also becomes an environmental problem.

Clearly, we cannot continue to rely on the current lithium-ion technology. Battery tech has to develop, to increase power at a reduced cost to both the environment and the pocket. To be fair, it’s not been for want of trying. There have been plenty of battery innovations over recent years but few have been from the UK.

Few in the West have taken the full measure of China’s drive toward electric vehicles… Forget Apple vs. Uber: Electric cars from China will be the real economic disruptor.

In 2014 scientists at the University of Illinois and Tufts University in Massachusetts developed a biodegradable battery that will dissolve in water. In 2015 researchers in Sweden and the US announced they have developed a battery made of a squishy wood-based foam substance called aerogel, made primarily from wood pulp. Last year, researchers at the University of California announced that they had invented a nanowire material capable of over 200,000 charge cycles without any breakage of the nanowires, meaning the technology could lead to batteries that never need to be replaced. According to Ray Chohan, SVP of Corporate Strategy at PatSnap, most of the innovations like these are coming out of Korea, Japan and the US but other countries too are starting to get in the on the act.

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Marc Ambasna-Jones

Marc Ambasna-Jones is a UK-based freelance writer and media consultant and has been writing about business and technology since 1989.

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