Mobile phones have advanced rapidly in the past ten years to a global force that is practically a requirement today. College students are always getting the newest iPhone around September but the trend is starting to slow. As our phones get sleeker and faster, battery technology seems to trail far behind the rest. Although each generation adds a few hundred milliamp hours or mAh, the battery life improvement is minimal and degrades over extended use. This blog will look at why phone batteries are limited currently and then the possible future of battery and charging technology.
The first phone batteries used were Nickel Cadmium (NiCD) batteries and Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) batteries. NiCD batteries had problems with toxicity and overheating, and NiMH batteries replaced NiCD batteries in the later 1990’s as they did not suffer from these issues. However, Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries rose to prominence over NiMH batteries and are the phone batteries most commonly used today. Li-ion batteries also come in a Lithium-ion Polymer form, often shortened to LiPo. Li-ion or LiPo batteries do not suffer from any toxicity or heat problems like the previous generations of batteries did.
However, like the batteries that came before it, Li-ion batteries slowly lose their capacity to recharge overtime. Inside every phone battery, there is a Lithium-Cobalt Oxide cathode and a Carbon (graphite) anode. The discharging process occurs when Lithium ions move from the anode to the cathode. And when the phone is charged, the ions move from cathode to anode. The process, known as “Cycling”, is not 100% efficient, meaning not every ion is transferred on each charge or discharge. The stubborn ions cause an inefficiency in the battery, reducing the overall amount of power the battery provides to the phone. This is an accepted process of Li-ion and LiPo batteries and our current battery technology does not know how to resolve it.
However, the solution may not be to resolve the problem with Li-ion or LiPo batteries, but a new technology entirely. The NanoScience Technology Center at the University of Central Florida is working on flexible supercapacitors that store more energy and do not degrade on recharge. A supercapacitor is very similar to a battery on steroids, meaning it has much more power than a traditional phone battery. The flexible descriptor just means that it is able to bend and flex without stressing the internal components or breaking. These supercapacitors can provide up to 30,000 charges and discharges without any significant degradation to the device. This is a large improvement over traditional Li-ion batteries, which start to fail after fewer than 1,500 cycles. And if all of these improvements were not enough, these phones could charge in seconds, and last for over a week without recharging. The lab working on the supercapacitors notes that there is still a lot of work to do before commercial phones would be using them, but it also sets an interesting precedent for electronic vehicles and wearable technology.
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