Fine, Electric Cars are the Future… so why is my Phone ALWAYS Dying?!
You know what I’m talking about. You see the headlines all over.
Elon Musk is a future *visionary* and Tesla will replace GM! But if electric vehicles really are the future, how come batteries still suck!?
How come your two-year-old iPhone now has no battery life (and another slightly-more-polished clone every year 🤬)? And what’s with the tangles of assorted chargers with the phones, laptops, tablets, and other electronics?
For something as simple as storing energy, shouldn’t we be beyond the caveman-era by now? Turns out, that ‘simple’ plug-and-go technology is a lot more messed up behind the scenes (like a heart-struck teenager having an identity crisis…)
Batteries have High-Key been Bratty for Thousands of Years
Surprisingly, this generation of teens may *somehow* seem to be even more irritating than the last! Well, batteries are the same.
Even though they’ve been around since those crazy-magic Persians, batteries seem to bring new headaches to the table with every single development.
2000 years ago, we only had to worry about the occasional leakage in these fancy power jars:
But then came along Volta with his ‘Voltaic Pile’ (which sounds like a less-than-appealing disease to be honest 🤮). Now, people had to worry about dangerous, leaky chemicals AND getting mildly electrocuted! (at least it was more efficient ;-)
From Volta to Old Ben Franklin, people kept on getting shocked and leaked on by these chemical soup batteries (with slightly higher efficiency each time)! But all good things come to an end. Eventually, we got to more modern batteries that were both more efficient AND less lethal.
One of the more recent ones have been the ‘Lithium-ion’ kind (which is fun to say)! Despite the futuristic name, it works *EXACTLY the same as* all those older, more deadly batteries.
So as we all know class, the electrons flow from the anode to the cathode due to electrolytic ion movem… (EWWWWWWW!!! CHEMISTRY!!!!!)
Okay, fine. Let’s try something else.
Imagine you see your crush at the other end of a crowded party and all around you, there are just negative people. You want nothing more than to get to the other side of the room, radiant with your crush’s positive, heavenly, miraculous aura 😇.
“The heart wants what it wants.” — Selena Gomez
“Teenage reality sucks and I hate it.” — Me
Irritatingly, that crowd between you and your crush won’t move and you can’t go across the room. So you cleverly go around through the room next door to get back to your crush (and everyone got married and lived happily ever after 💍— *NOT*)
Congratulations! You can now empathise with the romance of electrons! (….?)
No, really. Electrons are just like you:
- They want to get away from the negative side of the battery (anode), like you at the negative side of the party.
- They’re looking for their resplendent crush (lithium ions) at the positive side of the battery (cathode) as well.
- The crowd in the middle of the battery (electrolyte) won’t let them get through either.
- So they go around the battery and through any electronics we connect (load) to eventually get to their crush.
And by exploiting electrons’ heartbreak and anguish, we can power our 2-speed bubble fan blower! That’s because when electrons go through our electronics searching for their crush, we get power.
Now you can tell that story to anyone who asks how a battery works, no matter how many ‘Solid-State-Nickel-Cadmium-Sodium-Ion-Graphene-Hydrides’ they throw in there (you’re welcome :-)!
So if all Batteries Work the Same, what’s Elon on About?
Okay, technically, all batteries do follow that process. But as you might have guessed, there are a bunch of ways of making that process happen.
There are differences in battery shapes, lifespans, and materials (A LOT of differences in materials). Thinking back to those battery parts from earlier, most of those material changes are in the cathode.
You usually have metals like cobalt and lithium in cathodes nowadays. Depending on the metal used, the battery has different characteristics.
For instance, cobalt often leads to cheap batteries (but also exploits cheap labour and the environment…) As such, large companies like Tesla are paying attention to the #Woke crowd to reduce cobalt and other harmful materials.
At the opposite side of the battery (so to speak 😀), some new startups are also trying to replace anode materials. Sila Nano, for one, wants to replace graphite in anodes with Silicon.
Finally, battery research doesn’t just come at either end, but also in the middle with the electrolyte! Researchers don’t like the typical liquid chemicals (which work great except they have an irritating habit of y’know… exploding, catching on fire, and destroying everything they know and love).
Instead, they’re looking solid electrolytes with creatively-named “Solid-state batteries.” To oversimplify it WAAYYYY too much, the solid electrolyte doesn’t move about and change much, making it more *stable* (mentally AND physically, man ☮🌿)!
All of these have their special advantages, but they also have drawbacks like $$$, lifespan, and versatility (how many applications they’re good for). That being said, it’s an exciting time to work in the industry!
The Future: A Paradise of iPhones that Stay Charged
(and Samsungs that don’t explode… 😈)
Beyond the goodness of their 💓s (wait… what 💓s?!), these companies have a real economic reason to work on this technology. The next people to solve its ever-present problems is going to have #$$$sOutTheWazoo.
So one day, you’ll be able to charge your phone by tapping it on the counter, powered by your house’s battery pack storing solar energy.
You’ll hop into the all-electric bus that wirelessly charges at every stop and turn on your office lights (all powered by huge, grid-scale batteries storing renewable energy).
And throughout the day, none of those endless electronic nick-nacks will run out of charge!
Given all this recent work in battery innovations, the future looks bright. Scientists are making:
- big batteries, small batteries,
- twisty batteries, tall batteries,
- house batteries, mall batteries,
- cheap batteries, and non-environmentally-destructive-energy-efficient-spring-summer-fall batteries (Look, Ma! I rhymed!)
Now, when your phone’s dead and the electric car news is getting to your head, remember:
- Others have been going through the same frustrations for thousands of years (minus the electric car news)
- Batteries work by exploiting electron romance.
- Scientists are hard at work trying to replace battery materials.
- In the future, batteries will have more and more uses in many parts of life (so hopefully you’ll learn to like them by then ;-)
Before you go:
Hey, I’m currently trying to get this article *done wrote* before my battery dies. If you liked it, then please feel free to:
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So I can finish this and hightail it to the nearest outlet ;-)