A lot of pundits — Thomas Friedman being the latest — and Silicon Valley investors talk about the hope for a Moore’s Law for batteries. In the same way that the number of transistors on a chip has doubled roughly every two years, leading to the personal computing and Internet revolutions, the dream is that batteries will drop in size and price and rise in performance in the same fashion. But at The Battery Show in San Jose, Calif. on Tuesday, Paul Beach, president of battery company Quallion, brought that idea back to reality and explained the actual difference in progress between batteries and IT: “Moore’s Law has delivered a 10,000 times improvement over the years for chips, while historically batteries have shown a 3 to 4 times improvement.”
Beach, who has decades of experience in the battery biz, put it simply: If you want to find a Moore’s Law-type improvement for batteries, “you’ve got to go to an asteroid and come back with some new materials.” Battery improvements these days are about optimization and incremental improvements, and we need to stop drinking the Kool-Aid and be realistic about pricing, said Beach.
That said, Beach did note three areas of battery technology that he thought would make the best places for innovation: creating “ultrasafe” batteries, developing battery management systems for high voltage and high density batteries, and creating batteries with a wide operating temperature range.
Quallion, which was founded in 1998, and produces lithium-ion batteries, battery materials and cells, entered the battery industry by focusing on niche markets like medical devices, aerospace, and defense. More recently, Quallion has focused on “green technology,” a broad market that includes batteries for energy storage for the smart grid, and vehicle-to-grid applications.
An interesting application, that Quallion showed off at The Battery Show, is an onboard battery system for a class A truck (a semi that often has a sleeping cab). Truckers are legally required to stop idling their trucks (punishable by fines if they don’t), but still want to power their sleeping cabs, and Quallion’s technology charges up while the truck is on the road, and uses the power while the truck is turned off.
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Image courtesy of Lenny Montana.