Are batteries obsolete?

Hope so. The one thing that has held back technology more than anything is the battery. Hybrid cars need half a ton of them and just hauling them around takes a lot of energy. They add weight to your cell phone and expense to your laptop. Let’s not even get into the environmental consequences. Batteries are made of poisonous sludge that can burn you, tears into the environment, and is hard to recycle. We through out gazillions of batteries every year and it’s not getting any better.

Maybe, just maybe, there’s some hope. According to The Examiner it may be possible to make capacitors out of graphene, which is a super-thin material that can be shaped to fit almost any space. Not only that, graphene is so environmentally friendly that you can make it out of pencil lead and when you’re done with it, spread it out on your lawn as fertilizer.

Hold on, Sparky. You say it’s a capacitor. What does that have to do with batteries?

A capacitor isn’t a battery. A battery stores energy by using chemistry. It’s an inefficient process that produces heat and waste. Rechargeable batteries can be charged over and over but they become less efficient over time.

A capacitor is just like a big maze where electricity gets stuck. It just hangs out there until you show it the way out. It’s a lot more efficient and doesn’t break down. However, capacitors aren’t without their problems. Unlike a battery which can last years in storage a capacitor can drain in minutes, hours, maybe a couple days if you are lucky. They’re good for things that are charged up all the time. The other thing is that capacitors are bigger than batteries, so they don’t work so well in tiny gadgets.

Graphene-based capacitors could give you the best of all worlds. They could store energy for about a week — more than long enough for the average cell phone — and be so small that they could fit in spaces a battery couldn’t. Here’s the best part — capacitors charge almost instantly. If you’re the kind of person who thinks that charging your cell for an hour a day is a real drag, you’ll love having a capacitor around.

Maybe there’s hope. Maybe one day, batteries will be as obsolete as carbon paper.

Check out this video produced by Discovery. It will give you an idea what’s going on.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.