Tech EM: Are Batteries the Next Frontier in Tech?

January 05, 2015 | Event Technology

Processor speed and other functions have long been in the spotlight of computer hardware research, but now there is a familiar technology that is increasing in relative developmental importance: the humble battery.

The need for all devices from laptops to phones to be portable, light-weight and hold a charge as long as possible, has moved the simple battery to a lead position in the attention of researchers.

Scientists have been working on battery systems that can store more power for a longer period of time and on minimizing the safety issues associated with lithium-ion batteries, which can explode or cause fires in less than optimal conditions. The continued problems associated with Li-ion batteries in the Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft highlight this safety concern.

Many different avenues of portable power storage research are being investigated, including biological means to generate power. Virginia Tech has recently made breakthroughs in this arena by developing batteries made from sugar. And, Harvard's organic flow batteries make renewable energy sources more feasible by addressing the problem of power level fluctuation associated with charging cycles of solar and wind power. The focus on more 'natural' means of power storage also addresses efforts to make batteries more biodegradable. Draper laboratories, for example, has developed battery units that dissolve over time in salt water.

Organic concerns are also extending to charging methods. Charging mobile devices through movement is gaining momentum as startups and established companies develop self-charging batteries. One of these types of batteries currently in production is nPower's PEG device, which relies on movements of the user's body to generate power needed for normal power usage.

Other research that is underway calls into question the need for batteries at all. Like the efforts at the University of Washington that attempt to marginalize the battery altogether by tapping into ever-present EMF energy from radio and cellular transmission and using it to power the devices as well as transmit information between them.

In addition to powering devices, form factor plays a big role in the demands of a battery. Batteries can be bulky, generate heat and create safety hazards. Some of the new, more user-friendly designs have resulted in flexible batteries that permit devices to adapt to changing environments that occur in the back pocket of a user's jeans as well as other ever-changing, often damaging situations.

Whatever the size and shape, without power, a batteries' reception and Wifi connection become inconsequential. Whether flexible, biological, or ethereal, the question "how is it powered" may now be on equal status with "how fast is it?"

Posted by Jamie Barlow | Request as a Speaker

Devoted creative servant and quiet sage of technology. Inspired by nature and motivated by mediocrity. Digital team lead @sparksmarketing.