Why do phone batteries die?

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.


LG Li-ion phone battery

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.


Flexible supercapacitor illustration

Works Cited

Aleksander. “Cell Phone Battery History.” ChargeTech. CHARGETECH ENTERPRISES LLC., 26 May                      2014. Web. 28 Nov. 2016.

Hunt, James. “Why Do Smartphone Batteries Fail So Quickly?” Mental Floss. Felix Dennis, 22 Jan.                      2015. Web. 28 Nov. 2016.

“NanoScience Technology Center.” NanoScience Technology Center at UCF. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Nov.                    2016.

“A Phone That Charges in Seconds?” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 Nov. 2016. Web. 28 Nov.                               2016.

4 thoughts on “Why do phone batteries die?

  1. Matthew Porr

    I honestly had no idea that batteries performed using a cycling process. The explanation of the cycling not being 100% efficient clears up the advice that I shouldn’t be using my phone while on the charger. While I agree there needs to be a solution to this phone battery issue i’m not sure that a more efficient cycling method is the way to go. I feel as we should be moving away from cycling as a whole if that is a possibility. Overall I think that more focus and brainstorming needs to be done to re-vamp the phone battery.

  2. Kaitlyn A Kaminski

    Hi Jason,

    Very interesting! I always wondered why they haven’t made a battery that lasts for days at this point in technology. I feel like I cannot go the whole day without charging my phone at least two different times… I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve wanted to write a letter to tech companies wanting a longer battery. You provided great information for others to read and educated me a lot on how phones run, thank you. Here’s an article on the effects of 2G and 3G battery life http://kom.aau.dk/~ff/documents/1569188609.pdf, enjoy!

  3. Christopher Ronkainen

    It’s sad to say that a dead or dying cell phone can be one of the largest issues in my everyday life. Personally I find myself on my cell phone much more than I should be and always need to charge my phone at some point before the end of the day. Recently in my management class my teacher asked us to think of what the next big technological advancement is going to be, and or what we wish it would be. My mind immediately thought of a phone battery that wouldn’t die after a day of use! While researching the future advancements in phone batteries I came across this cool article that I think you should take a look at!

  4. Danielle Megan Sobel

    This article was really interesting. As an iPhone user, I am always concerned about my phone battery- since Apple has done little to enhance the battery life of their phones. I was wondering, since you found the study from UCF, how long this new type of technology may take to be implemented into our phones and other devices? All together I think you really gave good information, and went really deep into the research. I found a link that may help people with quick dying phone batteries: http://joyofandroid.com/tips-and-tricks-to-fix-android-phone-that-wont-charge-properly/

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