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astro
08-11-2008, 12:20 AM
Technological advances in most area of electronics have been phenomenal over the past 20 years, but battery technology still just pokes along. In 2008 I might get a few hours out of a typical notebook battery, which is about what I was getting out of clam-shell notebooks 15 years ago. I know feature sets have improved by orders of magnitude, and batteries have improved overall, but it's still surprising how slow and pokey advances in battery technology are relative to other advances

Why is this so? Why don't we have batteries that can power a notebook for a week instead of few hours?

IAmNotSpartacus
08-11-2008, 12:27 AM
First, today's notebooks consume significantly more power than notebooks of yesterday. Second, battery technology has greatly improved, not marginally improved, regardless of your impressions otherwise. Not just in energy density, but in cost and weight.

You are asking for a way to get 1000 miles from a gallon of gasoline.

kunilou
08-11-2008, 09:11 AM
Why is this so? Why don't we have batteries that can power a notebook for a week instead of few hours?

Because you can not change the laws of physics. There's only so much energy you can cram into a given amount of alloy. Maybe someone will come up with a better, lighter alloy, maybe not.

You are asking for a way to get 1000 miles from a gallon of gasoline.
Excellent analogy.

Huerta88
08-11-2008, 09:28 AM
All true about the enhanced power drain from modern laptops. Your fifteen years ago laptop had a monochrome screen (likely), low-density microprocessor, etc., etc.

There is also a behind-the-scenes issue with batteries that we may not think of but that is just as important as "how long will it last." Getting a battery that is steadily losing charge to delivery a steady amount of current (as needed for fairly delicate electronic devices) is a real struggle. Hard drives and LCD displays don't adapt as well as old-time flashlights to slowly getting dimmer and dimmer, as it were. So laptop batteries in particular are designed to deliver peak power until they can't, then the computer shuts off. This probably means shutoff comes sometime before all the charge is literally drained out.

Napier
08-11-2008, 04:29 PM
>Second, battery technology has greatly improved, not marginally improved, regardless of your impressions otherwise. Not just in energy density, but in cost and weight.

Now, wait a minute. I just did a fair bit of hunting around to figure out how to provide about 1000 Wh of line power to laptops and other small appliances in a remote environment, and was interested to see that the best way to approach this turned out to be lead acid batteries, as it would have been 50 years ago. There are some smaller and more energy-dense batteries available, but they aren't way better and they cost much more. Lead acid batteries are better in a few ways, like the use of gel (which I don't think is 50 years old but am not sure). But the overall picture was surprisingly unchanged.

Laptops, granted, don't use tubes, so the other side of the picture is very different indeed.

But there are reacitons like uniting hydrogen and oxygen that give many times the energy per mass of today's options. Perhaps ten years ago I read an article in Scientific American about intercolation of Hydrogen in metals, leaving me thinking it was right around the corner.

Batteries seem to me to evolve much more slowly than any other field of electronics, if you accept suggesting that the batteries field is part of electronics. Even if it's part of chemical industry, it's still slower than many other branches of the field, and the motive to have it move quickly seems unmatched, to me.

I accept the OP's premise that the battery field is surprisingly slow moving.

Whack-a-Mole
08-11-2008, 04:38 PM
Batteries seem to me to evolve much more slowly than any other field of electronics, if you accept suggesting that the batteries field is part of electronics. Even if it's part of chemical industry, it's still slower than many other branches of the field, and the motive to have it move quickly seems unmatched, to me.

I accept the OP's premise that the battery field is surprisingly slow moving.

There is a huge impetus for better batteries out there. If it is slow moving I suspect it is due to legitimate limitations in what can be done and not a reluctance to try.

That said I think the 1000 mpg battery (a bit overstated but still) is actually nearly here.

Stanford researchers have found a way to use silicon nanowires to reinvent the rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that power laptops, iPods, video cameras, cell phones, and countless other devices.

The new technology, developed through research led by Yi Cui, assistant professor of materials science and engineering, produces 10 times the amount of electricity of existing lithium-ion, known as Li-ion, batteries. A laptop that now runs on battery for two hours could operate for 20 hours, a boon to ocean-hopping business travelers.

"It's not a small improvement," Cui said. "It's a revolutionary development."

<snip>

Cui said that a patent application has been filed. He is considering formation of a company or an agreement with a battery manufacturer. Manufacturing the nanowire batteries would require "one or two different steps, but the process can certainly be scaled up," he added. "It's a well understood process."

SOURCE: http://news-service.stanford.edu/news/2008/january9/nanowire-010908.html

brewha
08-11-2008, 04:40 PM
. In 2008 I might get a few hours out of a typical notebook battery, which is about what I was getting out of clam-shell notebooks 15 years ago.

What did you're clam-shell notebook weigh? Do you realize that we are now getting much more power out of much smaller batteries? The technology is there, it's the demand that is not. If people needed notebooks to last for 10 hours, it could certainly be done. It's just that you're note book would go back to weighing 25lbs like they did 15 yrs ago instead of the couple of pounds that they weigh now.

The market is geared for people that want light weight in their laptops more than they want more than a couple of hours of battery.

Icerigger
08-11-2008, 06:10 PM
Are small powerful sources of energy possible even in theory? What would 100 grams of plutonium in a small RTG produce power wise? I know safety issues would never allow nuclear material in "batteries" but is it technically possible?

Stranger On A Train
08-11-2008, 06:28 PM
But there are reacitons like uniting hydrogen and oxygen that give many times the energy per mass of today's options. Perhaps ten years ago I read an article in Scientific American about intercolation of Hydrogen in metals, leaving me thinking it was right around the corner.You're talking about fuel cells; every time the topic of energy-dense storage comes up, people want to talk fuel cells. The problem is that hydrogen fuel cells don't scale down well because of the current limitations and problems of hydrogen storage, which still has yet to be solved, particularly in portable devices. SciAm (like its simple-minded brethren like Discover and Popular Science) always leaves you with the impression that great revolutionary discoveries are right around the corner, even when they're not.

Batteries seem to me to evolve much more slowly than any other field of electronics, if you accept suggesting that the batteries field is part of electronics. Even if it's part of chemical industry, it's still slower than many other branches of the field, and the motive to have it move quickly seems unmatched, to me.

I accept the OP's premise that the battery field is surprisingly slow moving.Development of battery technology has been evolutionary and incremental, without much in the way of revolutionary advancements to be sure, so compared to fields like microprocessors or molecular biology the advancements are slow, but not every field progresses in leaps and bounds at the same time. When someone comes up with a way to store and extract energy efficiently from nanocellular arrays, then we may see a revolution. But scaling existing electrochemical systems is a matter of incremental improvements.

Stranger

Khadaji
08-11-2008, 06:38 PM
I predict a huge jump in battery technology in the next year - no more than two years. I predict we'll see 5 times the performance in that time frame.

OK, that is totally a guess, but I'm going on record with it! :p

R. P. McMurphy
08-11-2008, 06:57 PM
Certainly, technologies don't develop at the same rate. Look at the internal combustion engine that powers your car. There have been millions of hours of R&D devoted to it and there have been significant advancements made in its design and efficiency, yet it is still basically the same mechanical device that powered cars about 100 years ago. It has been refined to an amazing degree but if you would compare it to the advancement of the silicone chip the engine delivering the same power should be the size of a thimble and get 1000 miles per gallon of gasoline.

Why hasn't science developed a comb the size of your thumbnail that will do the same job as the thing that your barber uses? Why is concrete a construction material that remains the product of choice? While its been improved, it remains little changed.

There are numerous other examples. Whoever breaks the battery problem will make Bill Gates look like a pauper and I hope that it happen. I'm just not going to live my life as if the breakthrough is right around the corner.

UncleFred
08-11-2008, 09:16 PM
In 2008 I might get a few hours out of a typical notebook battery, which is about what I was getting out of clam-shell notebooks 15 years ago.

My company just upgraded me from my 'old' Lenovo T40 to a new T61. the 'new' one gets about half the battery life, but I take this to be a cost-cutting meausre more than a reflection on battery technology.

GameHat
08-11-2008, 11:49 PM
Fun related story -

I'm an engineer. My dad, while very smart, completely lacks the "science/technology" plug-in in his brain. A recent conversation (no exaggeration):

Dad: *excited* "I know how you can get rich! Just invent a device that stores energy!"

GameHat: "What, like a battery?"

Dad: "No! It should store energy! And you could use that energy to power things!"

GameHat: "...a battery."

Dad: "No, batteries just store electricity. Invent a device that stores energy!"

GameHat: "What, like a flywheel? That and a battery both store energy."

Dad: "No! Something different that stores energy!"

GameHat: "WHELP, you know what, this has been enlightening but I'll just see you at Christmas. Gotta go! Buh-bye!"

:D

Sublight
08-11-2008, 11:56 PM
There have been some pretty impressive advances in battery technology, though. The development of Lithium-ion batteries has pretty much eliminated memory effect problems, for example.

Manduck
08-12-2008, 01:58 AM
Fun related story -

I'm an engineer. My dad, while very smart, completely lacks the "science/technology" plug-in in his brain. A recent conversation (no exaggeration):

Dad: *excited* "I know how you can get rich! Just invent a device that stores energy!"

GameHat: "What, like a battery?"

Dad: "No! It should store energy! And you could use that energy to power things!"

GameHat: "...a battery."

Dad: "No, batteries just store electricity. Invent a device that stores energy!"

GameHat: "What, like a flywheel? That and a battery both store energy."

Dad: "No! Something different that stores energy!"

GameHat: "WHELP, you know what, this has been enlightening but I'll just see you at Christmas. Gotta go! Buh-bye!"

:D

You were supposed to invent fuel!

t-bonham@scc.net
08-12-2008, 04:00 AM
Technological advances in most area of electronics have been phenomenal over the past 20 years, but battery technology still just pokes along.Because battery technology is basically chemistry, not electronics.

IAmNotSpartacus
08-12-2008, 04:11 AM
Now, wait a minute. I just did a fair bit of hunting around to figure out how to provide about 1000 Wh of line power to laptops and other small appliances in a remote environment, and was interested to see that the best way to approach this turned out to be lead acid batteries, as it would have been 50 years ago. There are some smaller and more energy-dense batteries available, but they aren't way better and they cost much more. Lead acid batteries are better in a few ways, like the use of gel (which I don't think is 50 years old but am not sure). But the overall picture was surprisingly unchanged.

Do you know how much lead acid and gel cell batteries weigh?

Certainly a car battery will power your cell phone for a longer period of time than that 2 oz lithium ion battery. As you quoted from my first post, one of the marvelous advances in battery technology has been lightweight and energy-dense chemistries.

R. P. McMurphy
08-12-2008, 07:02 AM
You were supposed to invent fuel!

Bingo!

Somebody that's too smart for me to argue with told me that gasoline is the most efficient and easily transportable form of stored energy.

You can talk all you want about oil company conspiracies but until we find something nearly as good or better at the task we're probably going to be relying on gasoline. Wouldn't it be great if a battery that weighed the same as gasoline could store just as much energy?

Mijin
08-12-2008, 07:14 AM
What would 100 grams of plutonium in a small RTG produce power wise? I know safety issues would never allow nuclear material in "batteries" but is it technically possible?

I'm guessing that such a technology is practically impossible, though possible in theory.

But if it were possible, a nuclear battery would probably be able to power a laptop for centuries.

Actually, it would be fun to try to guesstimate:

A battery containing 20g of matter, could liberate up to 500 million kWh of power (I didn't bother to do the E=mc2 calc: according to Wikipedia 1g liberates up to 25 million kWh).
I don't know what the power dissipation of a typical laptop is, but let's say 200W.

Given that there are approximately 8,765 hours in a year, that means this hypothetical, tiny, 100% efficient battery could power a laptop for 285,000 years!

A nuclear fission battery would be nowhere near 100% efficiency, but should be capable, I would think, of at least 10,000 years of power.

zut
08-12-2008, 08:01 AM
Bingo!

Somebody that's too smart for me to argue with told me that gasoline is the most efficient and easily transportable form of stored energy.
Pretty much. Here's a chart of energy density (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_density) from Wikipedia. Storage media better than gasoline are mostly fission/fusion, hydrogen in various forms, or metals. Even the best batteries are far down the list.

As a thought experiment, you *could* use a model airplane engine to power your laptop. The extra hardware (like the engine itself, I mean) would cut into the practical energy density of the system, and there are some other pretty obvious drawbacks, but it's sort of a fun idea.

BrotherCadfael
08-12-2008, 08:20 AM
Because you can not change the laws of physics. Did anyone else hear this in James Doohan's voice?

RiverRunner
08-12-2008, 08:36 AM
Did anyone else hear this in James Doohan's voice?

Me. "I canna do it, cap'n!"


Oh, and no thread touching on laptop computer power would be complete without mentioning the micro jet engine (http://radio.weblogs.com/0105910/2004/10/19.html) . I hate to think about the exhaust. On the other hand, it would be a gas* to have people watch as you refueled your laptop.


RR








*Ha.

R. P. McMurphy
08-12-2008, 09:29 AM
Pretty much. Here's a chart of energy density (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_density) from Wikipedia. Storage media better than gasoline are mostly fission/fusion, hydrogen in various forms, or metals. Even the best batteries are far down the list.


Thanks for the supporting site. Also notice that I said "transportable". The guy that told me the fact was an engineer that was working on a hydrogen car project. He noted that the huge problem with hydrogen is that in time it just disappears. Storage is a real problem even if it has more energy density. Gasoline has a lot of advantages and is the benchmark that new technologies have to be measured against.

Stranger On A Train
08-12-2008, 09:37 AM
Somebody that's too smart for me to argue with told me that gasoline is the most efficient and easily transportable form of stored energy.Plus, all you have to do is dig it out of the ground and refine it a bit; the energy is already there, which is a big savings over having to produce it yourself.

Did anyone else hear this in James Doohan's voice?Actually I heard Sean Connery saying it. I'm not really certain why, though.

Stranger

Huerta88
08-12-2008, 09:47 AM
Thanks for the supporting site. Also notice that I said "transportable". The guy that told me the fact was an engineer that was working on a hydrogen car project. He noted that the huge problem with hydrogen is that in time it just disappears. Storage is a real problem even if it has more energy density. Gasoline has a lot of advantages and is the benchmark that new technologies have to be measured against.
Without venturing into GD territory, I always think this when hearing indignant complaints about our oil/gas dependent culture. We'd have been fools (at the time) not to use such a convenient and energy-dense source of power.

Squink
08-12-2008, 10:19 AM
Actually I heard Sean Connery saying it. I'm not really certain why, though.You've likely watched Zardoz (http://www.ectomo.com/index.php/2007/12/10/moustache-monday-zardoz/) too many times. ;)

Icerigger
08-12-2008, 10:59 AM
Very interesting Wiki chart, it really puts things in perspective. By way of comparison the energy density of U-235 in a fission reactor is 88 million MJ per Kg while burning wood is only 17 MJ per Kg. 88 million Vs 17 wow! I guess clock work springs will not solve the nations energy demands either 0.0003 MJ per Kg. :p

Running with Scissors
08-12-2008, 01:15 PM
Wouldn't it be great if a battery that weighed the same as gasoline could store just as much energy?
Actually, if you're using an electric motor directly driven by a battery, with no internal combustion engine, then something that could store even 25% of the energy of the equivalent mass of gasoline would be doing quite well, since internal combustion engines are typically <= 20% efficient (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internal_combustion_engine#Energy_Efficiency), and high HP electric motors are > 90% efficient (http://www.engineeringtoolbox.com/electrical-motor-efficiency-d_655.html).

Cheesesteak
08-12-2008, 03:29 PM
Why is this so? Why don't we have batteries that can power a notebook for a week instead of few hours?Electronics advancements have to do with the ability to take their component parts and make them smaller and cheaper, without affecting functionality, then increasing the number of those parts astronomically.

With many technologies, it is impossible to do this, and has nothing to do with a lack of imagination in those industries. The equivalent would be to have the old 12" notebook screen reduced to the size of a breathmint, without reducing its functionality. If you could do that, then I'm sure you'd get remarkable improvements in battery life.

Batteries and engines are limited by the inherent energy density of the chemicals used to power them, and the fact that they have to deliver a fixed amount of power. You can't make a 100hp engine the size of a peanut, if only because the amount of power it has to deliver would blow apart any materials we could conceivably make it out of.

R. P. McMurphy
08-12-2008, 06:05 PM
The equivalent would be to have the old 12" notebook screen reduced to the size of a breathmint, without reducing its functionality. If you could do that, then I'm sure you'd get remarkable improvements in battery life.


Good point! Remember when they tech geniuses tried to sell us wristwatches with calculators built in? For awhile the game was to see how small they could make calculators. Trouble was, our fingers weren't getting any smaller. Guys like me that really used them were looking for the biggest one made to put on our desk. I still have a Sharp Compet QS-2130.

As old as a fine Scotch but still the best.

Shamozzle
08-12-2008, 09:01 PM
Grampa Jed's batteries couldn't do this (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GDHJNG2PngQ).

Glazer
08-12-2008, 11:14 PM
The cellphone I have now is smaller than the battery of my first celly back in '96. That old cell would last about half a day, now all day long, and I talk a lot more now. Also the old battery would completly die in 6 months, I have had this phone for 2 years with the same battery.

Chimera
08-12-2008, 11:53 PM
As sort of an aside on this;

Every time I see a scifi show like the Star Gate SG-1 episode where they are presenting these "fabulous inventions" that they'd actually reverse engineered from alien tech, I want to scream at how much the writers have missed the boat.

The key ep I'm thinking of has Samantha Carter presenting a holographic projector and the other guy presenting a "ray gun" of some kind. Yup, great stuff, but you're missing the larger picture here, people. It's not those particular inventions that would change the world, but the energy generation and storage technology *within* those presented scifi devices that would radically change the entire world and earn their inventors the big bucks.

The Arc Generator in Iron Man alone would earn Tony Stark more money after taxes than his company has earned in it's entire existence and completely revolutionize the world.

mswas
08-13-2008, 12:09 AM
As I understand it, it's a matter of a ratio of the storage cells to the volume of the size you're using. Recent improvements in materials have made it so we can store a lot more in the same amount of space. That improves batteries.

Napier
08-13-2008, 05:39 AM
>You're talking about fuel cells; every time the topic of energy-dense storage comes up, people want to talk fuel cells.

No, I didn't mean fuel cells, though they do seem promising. I think they're the technology of the future. Maybe they always will be.

I mean, batteries made of hydrogen and oxygen. Charts of electrochemical energy often put them at the top. Such batteries have never been made, AFAIK.

I have long had a daydream about inventing a kind of battery - cell, more precisely - that is almost filled with some material, and as you use the energy a fairly smooth and flat interface moves along the length of the cell, with some different material behind it. And none of this wastes energy or changes the two kinds of material to limit life. An excellent daydream, like being fantastically wealthy, unfettered by details like why this interface would have a voltage across it and create a current, or like where the wealth comes from.

A more recent daydream is about how to describe the behavior of rechargeable batteries. I gather that lead acid batteries operate the way a one dimensional solution to Poisson's equation would. This understanding grew out of reading explanations of "surface charge" in automobile batteries, as I was trying to understand deep cycle batteries like marine house batteries and golf cart batteries. So, I picture doing data acquisition on hundreds of little 50 ml lead acid cells, with various precision load resistors in a switching network, putting them through randomly generated charge and discharge cycles. Then I imagine a 1D finite element diffusion model on a computer with some minimal number of parameters, perhaps including phase changes between at least two phases, and coupled equations beyond just the diffusion equation. Next I imagine nonlinear iterative fitting to try to adjust the parameters to make the FEMs agree with the raw data. Last, I imagine a program controlling all these things, which keeps adding additional experimental runs whose characters should best improve estimation of the parameters in light of all the history to the present. I've done all these things one at a time, and in some problems I've linked a couple of these together, but the appeal of studying batteries is that they are small and inherently electronic. The result would be a program that you could feed a desired use case into. It would describe the behavior of the battery in response, in particular its life evolution.