The most popular battery types we use today were created as early as the 1950’s. As technology spreads throughout every facet of our lives, the struggle to keep these batteries running longer becomes fiercer every day. While scientists aren’t creating anything new, leaps and bounds in energy storage production means that technology is vastly improving at a rapid rate.
For example, Lithium-ion batteries, which were created in 1973 and still used in implanted medical devices, now power most smartphones and supercapacitors, first produced in the 1950s are tipped to power a renewable energy storage revolution.
Mobile device innovators are constantly trying to make the most effective device which lasts the longest and charges the fastest. Both of these types of battery have major advantages when it comes to micro-technology, but both have drawbacks which mean we aren’t ready for the revolution just yet.
Battery VS Supercapacitor
In mobile devices and wearable tech, flexibility is key. As Samsung announces a new foldable phone, flexible energy storage will become increasingly significant in mobile tech development. Lithium-polymer batteries differ from Li-ion batteries as they use a solid electrolyte, usually a gel, rather than a chemical one. This makes for super slim, super flexible battery pouches which can be moulded to fit smaller spaces or shaped to tuck into tighter casings. This allows for slimmer, lightweight devices which still have great energy storage properties.
Alternatively, supercapacitors are coated with graphene, one of the most flexible materials we know of. Supercapacitors made from this material are highly flexible and could be perfect for items like the foldable phone or other wearable devices where flexibility is a necessity.
Supercapacitors store energy through static electricity, meaning the energy is stored across the surface of the plates and can be transferred much more easily when compared with the chemical reactions batteries rely on. This means supercapacitors are great for devices which need to produce a huge output of energy quickly and can be recharged within minutes. This could be a huge breakthrough for mobile devices – imagine a business traveller being able to charge their phone to full power in minutes on the go!
On the other hand, Li-po batteries, as with all batteries, depend on energy transferring across an electrolyte. This takes much longer but also makes for a much denser substance, allowing for more energy storage overall.
Energy to weight ratio
Most smartphones use lithium technology because of its gravimetric energy density. These type of batteries can store the most energy per grams when compared with other battery types, meaning your phone will last for much longer using this type of battery.
Supercapacitors are very lightweight and, because they depend on the surface area of the plates for their energy storage, can only hold as much charger as the plates allow. Supercapacitors differ from regular capacitors as their plates are coated in a porous substance like graphene which increases their surface area but still need to be used in series to produce a useful amount of energy.
For this reason, supercapacitors are still pretty useless for smartphones but could act as a great solution if the technology can be developed.
Energy storage levels
While early mobile phones could be left unplugged and unused for days without losing much charge, their processing power was no match for everything modern smartphones can do. While most users charge their phones every day, energy storage quality is still an important factor in mobile devices, particularly in wearable devices which may not need to be recharged every day.
Supercapacitors are intended to be charged up quickly and discharged just as fast so their storage levels are relatively low. Most supercapacitors will run down by about 50% when left unused, compared with new Li-po models which have a loss rate of 0.1% per month. When considering items like smart watches, that’s a huge loss of 1.6% per day as compared with 0.003% with Li-po batteries, which makes the supercapacitor an unattractive option in today’s market.
The function of supercapacitors isn’t the most convenient either. With current battery tech, users can leave their phones on charge overnight so they’re not tethered to the wall for most of the day. In comparison, the super fast charge/discharge rate of supercapacitors may be more beneficial for short periods but could lead to users having to charge in short bursts regularly through the day.
Lithium-ion batteries commonly used in smartphones aren’t the cheapest batteries around but neither are our smartphones! A slight rise in cost may not seem too impossible or unattractive considering mobile tech prices consistently increase year on year anyway.
Despite this, Li-po batteries are even more expensive (roughly 30%) to produce than Li-ion so continue to be unattractive to tech companies who look to keep production costs as low as possible in order to maximise profits. If Li-po batteries are too much for tech developers, supercapacitors are even more costly. Coupled with their low energy outputs, mobile device manufacturers would likely need to include a number of capacitors in each device, which quickly racks up a much higher production cost.
Cyclability – how many times it can be charged
A downside of batteries since their inception is their cyclability, or lifespan. Because batteries rely on chemical reactions to produce energy, the chemicals inside batteries are worn down over time and gradually lose effectiveness.
Additionally, once a Lithium battery is out of cycles, there’s no bringing it back and the battery is useless. Standard Lithium-ion batteries have a lifespan of about 1000 cycles, which actually increases if the battery is not allowed to fully run out of charge before being recharged, meaning that it currently doesn’t pose much of an issue to the standard device buyer who replaces their device regularly.
Supercapacitors don’t rely on chemical reactions for their charge, which basically means they have an endless lifetime of unlimited charge cycles. If this technology could be practically harnessed in mobile devices, the lifetime of each product would dramatically increase. While this sounds like a huge relief for consumers tired of replacing their devices all the time, it probably isn’t high on the priority list for mobile companies looking to sell their latest model.
From cyclability to recyclability, the issue of battery lifespan poses an environmental issue which many don’t often consider. Lithium is a rare material which is difficult to recycle, meaning that Lithium ion batteries which are disposed of produce a lot of environmental waste.
Supercapacitors are not too recyclable themselves, but due to their unlimited cycle rate can be used indefinitely and hypothetically never need to be disposed of, posing a much better energy storage solution for the planet as companies strive to go as green as possible. Li-po and supercapacitor technology could revolutionise the mobile device industry with their unique qualities to bring consumers the longest-lasting, greenest options for their gadgets.
In a world overflowing with technological innovation where consumers are becoming increasingly aware of their individual impact on the planet, moving to more responsible and reliable methods of energy storage may harm margins but could have huge gains for the companies able to capitalise on the conscious of their consumers.
Author Bio – Eliza Cochrane is a content writer and PR manager for Battery Experts, one of the largest one-stop battery shops based in South Africa. In her spare time she enjoys reading, writing, and cycling.
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