Why carrying portable batteries became acceptable in 2019

Energy is power, and with 5 billion people around the world using mobile devices having a flat battery is the modern-day flat tyre. With recharging stations around every corner, and power banks in every pocket, what is the future of battery technology?
Batteries
IBM Research has developed a new battery which might replace lithium-ion. Image: Flickr

Staying connected

I’m a child of the ’80s, and so can well remember the days before mobile phones. We used A-to-Z roadmaps in the car, gave our friends three rings on their landline when we were coming over, and actually chatted in person.

Modern technology has changed the face of communication beyond all recognition. Five billion of us use mobile devices, and of those, half are smartphones.

To put that in perspective, about 66% of the world population now uses a mobile phone.

Smartphones are a revolution! I use my phone to Facetime family hundreds of miles away, stay up to date with global news, and have a GPS at the touch of a button.

The problem is and has always been, staying charged. Modern smartphones provide about ten hours of talk time or 300 hours on standby.

Battery power

When I think about it, I use batteries more than I realise. I have two power banks (one for longer journeys and multiple devices, one I carry all the time ‘just in case’). When did this become the norm?

Powerbanks are beyond useful for a solo parent travelling cross-country with a small child, but how is our reliance on electronic devices changing the way we live?

It’s a really interesting point; my smartphone can easily cope 1-2 days without a charge. However, my Kindle Fire not so much, and if I need Disney to keep playing on a six-hour drive, a power bank seems to have become essential.

I am not alone. The consequence? Carrying portable power has become the norm, not the exception. Battery storage has been calledthe next disruptive technology in the power sector‘.

It is reported that the cost of battery packs has dissolved from $1,000 per kilowatt-hour to $230 per kilowatt-hour. That is just in the six years between 2010 and 2016. Consumer-driven commerce creates higher demand, greater competition and overall drives down prices.

Mobile phone plugged into a power bank
Five billion people worldwide use mobile phones. Image: Flickr

Lithium-ion batteries

We all know that battery packs have restrictions for air travel. Nearly all phones and rechargeable battery packs contain Lithium-ion batteries. They are limited to 100 watts per battery for travel, and may only be carried in carry-on baggage.

This is because Lithium batteries contain flammable electrolytes which are sensitive to temperature changes.

In the hold of an aircraft, batteries can explode or ignite. The serious safety implication is that a device or charger could cause a fire in an area not accessible to airline staff to quickly diffuse the danger.

Wind farm
Household batteries can store up to 10kWh of energy produced from solar and wind power. Image: Flickr

The future of battery power

We reported recently about the ‘artificial suns’ in development in China and Southern France. This makes me seriously excited because we have on our doorstep the opportunity to replace ALL fuel sources with clean energy. There is a way to power the world with an unlimited power supply, which does not harm the environment.

So, how will battery power innovate?

Batteries are used increasingly to back up the grids and provide a contingency for power shortages. There is talk of home batteries that can power a home with reserves of energy storage.

Elon Musk announced back in 2015 that Tesla had produced home batteries at a retail price of $3,500. These are Lithium-ion batteries that can harness up to 10kWh of energy from wind and solar panels.

Replacing lithium-ion

The fact that we all rely on energy, and back-up supplies, is not in dispute. However, given the dangers of lithium-ion, is there a viable alternative?

Yes, there is, and one option is being developed by IBM Research whose new battery extracts materials from seawater.

The new battery outperforms traditional lithium-ion withlower costs, faster charging time, higher power and energy density, strong energy efficiency and low flammability‘.

Staying connected might have revolutionized the way we live, but making it so is subject to fast innovation.

Do you agree that being permanently connected has changed the way we live? Do you carry a power bank with you and if so, for what types of journey or usage? Let us know what you think!

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