Saturday, December 01, 2012

Billion Dollar Idea: Build a Better Battery

Billion Dollar Idea: Build a Better Battery

There is a paraphrased quote attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson from the late nineteenth century "build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door".  An updated version of that quote should read,  "build a better battery, and the world will beat a path to your door"

I have said if anyone wants to be a quick billionaire, all they have to do is invent a revolutionary battery that has a high power density, that is small, light weight and inexpensive to build.  The problem is like most things, "it's a lot easier said then done".

One of the biggest technological hindrances to current and futures technologies (from smartphones, to cars, to power grids, etc.) is the current state of battery advancements   If you look at the rate of advancements in other technologies, you can see exponential growth that has been happening for years and even decades.  For example, if you look at Moore's Law you will see a logarithmic advance in the density of transistors in CPUs over the decades.

from: Wikipedia

The current state of modern batteries has progressed very slowly over the centuries and even last few decades.  For example:
  • The first electrochemical cell was developed by the Italian physicist Alessandro Volta in 1792, and in 1800 he invented the first battery, a "pile" of many cells in series.  
  • The Daniell cell in 1836, batteries provided more reliable currents and were adopted by industry for use in stationary devices, in particular in telegraph networks where they were the only practical source of electricity.
  • Near the end of the nineteenth century, the invention of dry cell batteries, which replaced the liquid electrolyte with a paste, made portable electrical devices practical.
In the last few decades there have been advances in material, power density and the cost of the batteries as the technology increased in sophistication  for example, there has been technologies like nickel–cadmium (NiCd), nickel–zinc (NiZn), nickel metal hydride (NiMH), and now lithium-ion (Li-ion). Each of these advancements has fixed issues with previous generations (e.g. 'battery memory effect', power density  weight, size, etc.) and performance.

Over the last few years, some manufactures have been working on alternative technologies to replace or supplement conventional batteries such as supercapacitors, and direct methanol fuel cells.  There have been experimental advancements in battery materials like lithum-air, and carbon nanotube electrodes. As of 2012 Lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) batteries were the fastest-charging and discharging batteries.

Per a recent article that I saw, it had the title: "DOE wants 5X battery power boost in 5 years". Here is an excerpt from the article "The DOE is creating a new Joint Center for Energy Storage Research, at a cost of $120 million over five years, that's intended to reproduce development environments that were successfully used by Bell Laboratories in the World War II Manhattan Project that produced an atomic bomb. "

As far as grid level storage there are liquid metal batteries from a company called Ambri.  For more information watch the video below from TED, where Donald Sadoway gives a talked called "Liquid Metal Battery - The Missing Link to Renewable Energy"

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