Batteries charge forward

Mobile and automotive applications depend on battery performance

By Morand Fachot

The performance of batteries is becoming ever more important for mobile devices as these get more capable and need extra power. The automotive sector too is trying to overcome range and charging limitations of current batteries to encourage adoptions of electric vehicles. IEC Technical Committee (TC) 21 develops Standards to address these issues.

Laptop battery Portable and mobile devices are the main drivers of the Li-ion batteries market

It's all about mobility...

In recent years consumers have benefited from the introduction of countless mobile and wearable information and communications technology (ICT) and consumer electronics (CE) devices and systems. As these employ ever more advanced processors, displays and audio systems and offer connectivity to an increasing variety of wireless networks and other devices, they are becoming more and more power hungry.

The major issue they already face and will continue to face is in narrowing the gap between the growing power they need and that at their disposal in the form of rechargeable (or secondary) batteries.

Likewise, the wider adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) is seen as hinging on the availability of more advanced batteries that will allow them to overcome the limitations of range and charge they currently face.

...lasting longer...

While the computing and processing power of the new mobile devices appear to follow "Moore's Law", which infers a doubling in semiconductor performance every 18-24 months, batteries have not kept pace and are constantly playing catch up in meeting the needs of ever more advanced devices.

Today’s batteries for mobile applications are mainly based on lithium-ion (Li-on)) chemistry, which offers the key advantage of being able to store large amounts of energy in comparatively light, compact and purpose-made packages. However, while these batteries may provide a reliable power supply for mobile CE and ICT systems and EVs, they can no longer keep up with the growing demands placed on them.

Much of the research into batteries for mobile applications now focuses on increasing their power density (the amount of power that can be stored in a certain volume) without augmenting their weight or size.

...and charging faster

Another issue at the centre of research in the development of more advanced batteries is better charging technology. The ability to charge batteries as quickly and as fully as possible is more important than ever, more so for automotive applications as a number of systems have been developed that charge quickly or can provide emergency top-up power to mobile devices when needed.

At the recent Las Vegas 2015 Consumer Electronic Show (CES) a number of systems were demonstrated, including one that is capable of charging a mobile phone about 100 times faster than at present. However these are still at a research and development stage and will require the development of new types of chemistry for the batteries on which they place heavy demands.

The secrets are in new materials and chemistry

Industry is working hard to overcome the limitations of the current generation of batteries. Its success depends on the development and introduction of new materials and chemistries for electrolytes as well as for electrodes.

The association of materials such as lithium-sulphur with a graphene wrapper and the development of various types of glass or gel, as well as the use of nanomaterials, are seen as offering interesting prospects for significant improvements in the performance of batteries for mobile and automotive applications.

IEC standardization work

IEC Subcommittee (SC) 21A: Secondary cells and batteries containing alkaline or other non-acid electrolytes, prepares International Standards for batteries used in mobile applications and EVs, as well as for large-capacity lithium cells and batteries.

These Standards concern tests and measurements, design and manufacturing recommendations as well as safety requirements and are essential for the battery industry as it develops new products and chemistries.

Huge and fast expanding global market

According to a report by the growth consulting firm Frost & Sullivan, the global lithium-ion battery market was worth USD 11,7 billion in 2012 and USD 17,58 billion in 2013. Frost & Sullivan forecasts that it will more than quadruple by from 2013 to 2020.

Current revenue breakdown shows the consumer market to be the main segment followed by automotive and industrial, with grid and renewable energy storage coming last.

However, by 2020 Frost & Sullivan expects the grid and renewable energy storage market to become the leading consumer of lithium-ion batteries, followed by the automotive sector, with consumer applications coming behind those two industries but ahead of industrial applications.

Whilst the grid and renewable energy storage sector does not really need lighter and smaller batteries, the same cannot be said for automotive and consumer applications. The incentive to improve the performance of secondary batteries and of charging systems for these applications while reducing their volume and weight will remain and is likely to drive further advances in the battery industry.

Tablet smartphone 3/3 Smartphones and tablets place heavy demand on batteries (Photo: Android Press)
Array of li-ion cells 2/3 Cutaway showing Li-ion cells in GM EV
Laptop battery 1/3 Portable and mobile devices are the main drivers of the Li-ion batteries market