One of the biggest sources of frustrations for users of mobile devices, from laptops to smartphones, is the relatively short life and small capacity of their lithium-ion batteries. But one father and son team believe they have a solution for that, and it's not a new type of battery, but rather a better way to manage the batteries so they can hold a bigger charge and last for more recharge cycles.
While we keep hearing about the coming age of the supercapacitor, which could have huge capacities and very quick charge times, it may be quite some time before we see them in the devices we use every day. In the meantime, it stands to reason that getting the most out of the batteries already in production would be a big step forward for the mobile tech industry. It would also make sense from an environmental perspective, because Li-ion batteries are already used to power a great number of gadgets, so making them last longer and hold more power would conceivably reduce the amount of waste associated with them.
Nick Sherstyuk, an electrical engineer, and his son Tim, a university chemistry student, began researching how they could prolong the life of Li-ion batteries, and after a year of trials, came up with a technology that works with just about any Li-ion battery, substantially extending its life and increasing its capacity. They patented their gBatteries SmartG BMS (Battery Management System) in 2012, and are currently looking for an industry partner to get their technology integrated into current or future devices.
According to their website, their technology dynamically manages the energy in a Li-ion battery through all of its cycles, from charging to idling to discharging, and thereby boosts the battery's ability to store more energy and prevent the fading of capacity over time.
"This enhanced control method allows any OEM li-ion battery to gain the ability store 10-40% more capacity (varies between specific type of li-ion chemistry), have a 4x higher cycle count, and not degrade in capacity over time.
Capacity fading prevention: Our patent-pending process maintains the lithium ion diffusion at optimal levels and eliminates concentration polarization and thus allows the Li-ions to be more uniformly extracted from or reinserted into the cathode materials. This maintains the SEI layer at a stable state and prevents battery capacity fading.
Capacity increase: Our battery pack architecture and controlling algorithm allows to fully utilize the active materials in battery cells. The maximum theoretic specific energy density of li-ion batteries is calculated to be between 380 – 460 Wh/kg. In the real world, li-ion batteries typically produce 100 – 125 Wh/kg. Our technology allows for better utilization of the battery cell’s active materials, and thus allows the battery to charge more than it previously could. Taking the above numbers as an example, a li-ion battery controlled by SmartG would produce 110 – 175 Wh/kg." - gBatteries
While it seems that this type of technological advance would be a no-brainer to the tech industry (imagine what a selling point being able to boast of the longest-lasting and highest capacity battery would be), according to an interview in the Globe and Mail, Sherstyuk says that some interested companies "have expressed concern that the longer-lasting batteries will result in fewer units sold, as consumers will be able to hang on to their devices for much longer."
I know that mentioning planned obsolescence in the context of tech products is kind of disingenuous, due to a lot of other factors that convince people to always upgrade to the newest devices, but in this case, the fading capacity and low number of charge cycles in batteries could be an unintended (yet profitable) consequence of the current state of battery technology that drives people to replace their device. If so, introducing a battery management system such as this one from gBatteries, could potentially lengthen the lives of devices and reduce the e-waste associated with them, even at the risk of selling fewer units.