Reimagining Battery Technology

A key to tech success

Advancements in technology can be held back by countless obstacles, from the reluctance of legacy businesses to the scepticism of consumers. However, often it’s the capabilities (or lack thereof) of the tech itself that can be most frustrating. Pressure from both developers and consumers has placed the spotlight squarely on the creation of better batteries. Experiments with new materials and chemical compounds have enabled some progress, but traditional lithium ion batteries still reign supreme. Clearly there’s a long way to go, but the race to make the best battery is very much on.

Promising battery alternatives have really been piling up in the last few years. But even those developed by tech giants like Tesla have their problems. Take electric vehicles (EVs), for example. Right now, hybrid and electric vehicles are charged at ports in convenient locations. Having an EV is all well and good until you’re in the middle of nowhere and you run out of power. In short, before we solve the crippling issues of existing batteries, technological progression is very unlikely to live up to its hype.

Harder, better, faster, stronger

As well as experimenting with different materials, researchers are reimagining traditional battery processes. A team at Purdue University is working on a flow battery that doesn’t need a charging point at all. Instead, it’s filled up with fluid, making it instantly rechargeable, environmentally friendly, and affordable. It almost sounds too good to be true. Whilst this might solve the issue of breaking down in the wilderness, this is just one drawback of the batteries we use today. Another common complaint is charging time, but Israeli startup StoreDot’s FlashBattery, which charges EVs in just five minutes, could help to address this. Other grievances involve run time and power storage capacity. What’s most encouraging is that companies and research facilities have recognised the part they need to play in bringing about better batteries. But, excluding profit, what exactly do they hope to achieve?

A world with better batteries. . .

As so many projects and products have been limited by insufficient battery power, it’s safe to say that improved batteries would create an even more vibrant tech scene. Better batteries have disruptive implications for every industry under the sun, particularly in automotive. If a battery can offer the same – or better – efficiency than petrol or diesel motors, then EVs suddenly become far more attractive. Theoretically, super powerful batteries would solve the recurrent problem of energy storage and make alternative power competitive with incumbent options. One of the key arguments against renewable power is that it can’t be reliably stored, but this becomes obsolete if you can harness it securely. In fact, Tesla has promised to fix renewable energy shortages in South Australia via their PowerPacks. Improved batteries would also enhance product development across all sectors, allowing for higher quality Virtual and Augmented experiences, industrial robots, consumer electronics… The list goes on. There’s a reason we keep coming back to batteries – supercharge them, and you supercharge everything.

The efforts of university research teams and bright startups like StoreDot are pushing the limits of battery technology, grappling with the long standing criticisms surrounding run time, storage, charging and general power. Each new alternative means less reliance on lithium ion, and provides more of an incentive to keep going. Of course, the perfect electric energy storage system is still a long way off. But it’s a busy sector, inhabited by tech behemoths as well as ambitious startups. Who knows which company or research lab will eventually take charge of the situation – but until they do, considerable technological advancement will simply have to wait.

Is your business or industry limited by incumbent battery technology, and how? Are legacy batteries the biggest obstacle to technological development? What other industries could benefit from better batteries? Share your thoughts and opinions.