Back about 5 years ago, antenna guru Phil Karras came to me with an interesting article idea. He wanted to see if you could turn a regular battery into a rechargeable one. In his typical detail-driven style, he went through every step and documented it all in a blog article.
Spoiler alert… he failed.
After several days of trying, Phil concluded that there was simply no point in trying to recharge a regular alkaline battery. It just never got to the point where the battery was consistently usable. But, this didn’t surprise me. Battery technology is a pain point for pretty much everything in our modern society. It’s why we change phones every few years. It’s why we are tethered to gas stations and the petroleum economy. And, it’s a particular pain if you fly and have to check luggage. Batteries don’t do well in unpressurized environments like cargo holds.
Has battery technology always been that bad?
Yes. Kind of. The problem is that battery technology hasn’t kept up. Today’s batteries are better than those from 20 years ago. That’s true. But they aren’t 10,000 times better. On the other hand our computing devices are arguably 10,000 times better. We’ve relied on processor design to cut down on power consumption but the batteries themselves really are the problem. Imagine battery technology had advanced as quickly as processor power for the last 50 years. A battery the size of a quarter would be able to power your home for a day. And, it would charge back up in an hour using solar panel. That’s the future we were promised way back when.
What about the next five years?
In the last decade we’ve heard a lot about solid state batteries. I wrote an article a couple years ago about some potential gains there, but so far nothing has happened. A solid-state battery could charge faster and safely hold more energy, but it still wouldn’t be the massive improvement in battery technology we need.
I am hoping that we’ll see some changes in solar technology, though. We’ve heard of promising technologies like clear solar panels that can go on windows, and solar panel efficiency is improving. If you could cover everything from a cell phone to a skyscraper with solar panels, you wouldn’t need to rely on a battery as much.
But, the sad thing is that I think I’ll be writing another article in five years throwing back to this one, called “When I was wrong about batteries getting better.” I do hope they will, but unless something miraculous happens, we’ll be talking about how batteries are the problem for a long time to come.