Batteries at the Forefront
Automotive to smartphones to clean energy and more, needed improvements to energy storage can’t arrive soon enough.
Batteries are the primary source of energy storage if you are working in portable electronics devices, but the need for efficient, environmentally friendly energy storage has rapidly expanded to include photovoltaics (solar) and electric vehicles, as these two technologies have made great advancements in the last decade.
People are working on it. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has a Vehicle Technologies Program (VT), where vehicle-related research is a comprehensive effort to develop an advanced lithium battery technology. At the Applied Battery Research division six DOE labs co-operate to resolve critical barriers to advancing battery life, improving abuse tolerance and performance in harsh environments, and lowering overall cost. The DOE also has under its umbrella a group for long-term battery research whose goal it is to understand system failure modes and effects, develop models to optimize systems and predict system failure, and investigate promising new materials.
One of the main goals of the DOE’s materials research groups is to develop materials that demonstrate increased energy density. Increases in energy density mean less hardware, batteries with lower weight and volume, and a lower overall operating cost.
Lithium-ion batteries can be considered one of the major success stories of the past two decades in electrochemistry in terms of capacity, longevity, and cycles. Incidences with batteries catching on fire in laptops, airplanes, and smartphones in the last decade tells us that we are continually demanding more from batteries than electrochemical means can provide. We’ve resorted to multiple power-saving design techniques, wireless charging, portable backup recharging packs, you name it. But until we find a better, safer, and preferably more environmentally friendly source of portable energy the onus is upon electronics and electrical engineers to do the heavy lifting with designs that take excruciating care to how power is used.