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Technology Mobiles and Tabs 11 May 2017 Power play: An end t ...

Power play: An end to battery blues?

Published May 11, 2017, 2:27 am IST
Updated May 11, 2017, 2:27 am IST
The battery is the biggest pain point of mobile phone users. Can industry make them better rather than bigger?
Researchers have been able to create a charging process using light as the energy instead of electricity.
 Researchers have been able to create a charging process using light as the energy instead of electricity.

The computing power of your phone grows exponentially every year. The latest iPhone has 16 times the power of the first edition. Storage, camera, everything grows — and so does our appetite for watching video.

All this makes heavy demands on the phone’s power source, which has grown bigger and bigger: Last year, brands such as Gionee and Asus crossed 5000 mAH.  Then, we demanded that bigger batteries should not translate into bigger phones. So the makers squeezed and squeezed to fit these jumbo batteries into limited space.  We know the result.


The Perry Mason-like ‘Case of the Combustible Phone’ was mainly — but not wholly — a Samsung story. Phone batteries ignited mainly because they had been squeezed into impossibly small enclosures, without allowing space for natural expansion with warming. Happily, the craze for jumbo batteries seems to have died down. But the challenge remains: Can you make batteries better rather than bigger?

The mobile phone battery technology has hardly evolved in the quarter century since Sony introduced the lithium-ion rechargeable battery with carbon as the negative pole or cathode and a compound of lithium — the lightest of all metals — as anode. They have gone about as far as they can go, and yes, they tend to explode when overheated. The time had come to look at other options.

Here is a rundown of current efforts, none of which is anywhere close to commercial realisation:

Last week an announcement by Canada-based McGill University and HydroQuebec held out hope that batteries might charge themselves — from the sun. Resear-chers say they have been able to create a charging process using light as the energy instead of electricity. They are now working to build the second half, allowing energy produced at the cathode to be stored at the anode.

According to Nikkie Technology Online, by using sulphur as an electrode, Sony is working towards sharply increasing the efficiency of existing batteries and boosting the battery life of mobile phones by almost 40 per cent.

At Stanford University, they are betting on aluminium. “We have developed a rechargeable aluminium battery that may replace existing storage devices such as alkaline and lithium-ion batteries,” said Professor of Chemistry Hongjei Dai. “It won’t catch fire even if you hammer it.”

All these are in the realm of research and no new technology is going to reach our phone batteries in the near future. So what do we do?

Fast Charges
If we are forced to recharge every day, at least let us do it faster, in 30 minutes rather than 2-3 hours! Qualcomm has created a technology, QuickCharge, which is used by Motorola, Samsung, HTC and others. Oppo has its own technology called Super VOOC Flash Charge. One Plus phones use DashCharge and they have coined a motto we can empathise with: Less time in the socket, more time in the pocket.

Finally, there is always the option of carrying a power bank. Many of these now come with a solar panel so you don’t have to look to an electrical socket to keep the bank charged.

Sorry, there are no breakthroughs imminent if you are looking for batteries that are light and long lasting and safe. This is a work in progress and we have to wait — and keep charging!

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