Trends in battery technology
05 March 2018
Just as diamond is formed under intense pressure and is the world’s most valuable gemstone, so too is battery technology developed under increasing pressure from consumers and manufacturers, and is one of the most valuable components in devices. But how is this pressure shaping the future of battery design?
Three key trends are shaping the way that batteries are being developed: safety concerns are leading manufacturers to re-think their active materials and cell construction techniques; growth in wearable devices is driving the trend for batteries with increased power density; and the expanding grey market is making manufacturers even more conscious of consumer safety.
From sleep-tracking headphones to infrared thermometers with smartphone apps, the wearable device market continues to grow. Consequently, battery manufacturers face the challenge of making smaller batteries that deliver longer runtimes.
Recent battery scandals have raised concern about the safety of Li-ion batteries. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently restricted certain smartphones on their flights, due to a risk of exploding. Design flaws in the battery caused the separator between positive and negative tabs to break down. This meant that the battery short-circuited, overheated and in some cases caught fire.
Following this controversy, researchers at Stanford University suggested a way to introduce flame-retardant material into Li-ion batteries to prevent fires caused by overheating. Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) of consumer electronics devices need to ensure that the batteries they are purchasing meet the latest international standards for safety and performance. This means checking that requirements are met at both a cell and battery level.
Suppliers of batteries must work under strict design control: without proper validation, a seemingly trivial design change could have damaging consequences further down the supply chain.
The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) saw an abundance of wearable health and fitness devices. From sleep-tracking headphones to infrared thermometers with smartphone apps, the wearable device market continues to grow.
Consequently, battery manufacturers face the challenge of making smaller batteries that deliver longer runtimes.
To meet this demand, scientists recently created what has been dubbed ‘the bendy battery’, a flexible battery containing aluminium and graphite foam, surrounded by liquid salt. The battery has attracted plenty of interest from manufacturers for its lightweight design and potential use in powering flexible displays. However, there is still a long way to go, as it currently only delivers half the voltage of a lithium-ion battery.
The grey market
The use of batteries for life-critical devices, whether in the medical or military sector, means there are increasing safety and security concerns. At the same time, a global rise in counterfeiting and the grey market has seen imports of counterfeit goods account for almost 2.5% of global imports.
Counterfeit batteries pose an increased risk of overheating or catching fire, as well as not delivering reliable performance. To counter this, Accutronics’ smart batteries feature algorithmic security, meaning that if a counterfeit battery is inserted into the host device, it can display a warning message or shut down completely. Counterfeit batteries often look identical to branded batteries, so OEMs must consider security features such as this to protect their devices.
Given the demand for more energy, with denser and yet smaller batteries, the industry is looking for ways to stay ahead of the needs of consumers and device OEMs. And shaped by concerns over counterfeiting and the grey market, battery manufacturers are looking to innovate sustainably and safely. It is clear that this pressure is forming a diamond of the global battery market – which is expected to be worth over $17 billion by 2021.
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