Monday, June 25, 2012

Battery Problems

My favorite computer — my Mac Air — has a battery problem. It requires recharging every few days! Why can’t it get the Energizer bunny and just keep on playing? There may be some lap top, somewhere, out there, with longer battery life than my little Mac, but I doubt it. I just have too high of expectations.

I’m even becoming tired of charging my iPad, which I have to do more than twice a month!! This is ridiculous. These devices should take a lickin’ and just keep on tickin’.

The problem, as I’ve been able to conclude, is batteries. While the electronics and computer industry as a whole has improved devices during my lifetime, like from the Flintstones to the Jetsons, yet batteries are still somewhere in the ‘50’s with doo-woop. What gives?

Now people want electric cars. I understand the issue of economics and economics. I once drove an electric car from Denver to San Francisco on seventeen cents worth of electricity.

Unfortunately, the extension cord cost $243,184 … (rim shot).

Again with the batteries. Quit fooling around American Industry. Give us a better battery before the Chinese do!!!

The simple answer: Battery development is hard, slow work. Throwing loads of money at it will help, but it will not make it happen overnight, as so many electric car proponents have predicted. There are no specific moving parts in a battery, but it's one of the most complicated things to develop, in terms of all the things happening inside. You've got multiple materials trying to come together in one place. It's volatile. And there are a lot of opportunities for things to go wrong.

It's a matter of thermodynamics. There aren't any things you can just grab off the shelf whenever you want higher energy.

Most of the battery experts say it's unfair to compare the rapid development of electronics to that of batteries. Electronics have been using the same material (silicon) for more than a half-century. To reduce the feature sizes of their chips, semiconductor manufacturers keep improving their chemical deposition processes and photo-lithography techniques. Their efforts are essentially a triumph of manufacturing.

In contrast, battery makers are constantly searching for new materials, combining them, testing them, and then waiting for the results. It's a physical sciences challenge. And it's limited by nature. You're always working with something new, like a cobalt oxide one day and a manganese oxide the next. You can do anything you want to those materials, but you aren't ever going to get any more energy out of them than the thermodynamics allow.

Outside the prescribed boundaries of the battery industry, the general public blames some entity — auto companies or oil executives — for suppressing a technology that could change the world. To this day, there's no shortage of individuals who are convinced that GM or Ford has a cheap, high-energy battery wrapped in oily rags in a basement somewhere.

The truth, though, is much more boring. Battery development is just hard, slow work. It requires some of that STEAMD stuff, and that stuff is in short supply. Anyone want to major in batteries in college?

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