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Summary:

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,” says Quallion President Paul Beach.

asteroid

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.

  1. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Just because we are not seeing Moore’s law on batteries now, doesn’t mean we won’t in the future. I think it is a good goal to have. If we don’t try new things we certainly won’t ever see it. Of course, the fact that we may not get to a Moore’s law pace with batteries is also a possibility, but I think it is close-minded to rule it out completely.

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    1. “I think it is close-minded to rule it out completely.”

      Apparently not acquainted with the laws of physics and chemistry? Moore’s Law is a clever synopsis of silicon advancement, but it is not a “law” nor does it bump up against any natural laws, per se. However, laws governing chemical energy, electrons (and photons)
      and mass, limit advances in batteries, and will always do so. They are two different things. Any claim of a super battery will only be because of magic and charlatanism.

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      1. I understand that Moore’s law isn’t a physical law of nature. That is besides the point. What I am trying to say is we don’t know where technology is going to take us. To say it will never happen is as flawed as assuming that it will happen. In fact Paul Beach’s statement about the asteroid actually says what I am saying. If a new material (or technology) is discovered maybe we will see Moore’s law.

        In the end all I am saying is even if it’s not possible it’s a good goal to have and we lose nothing to strive for it.

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  2. Really appreciate this article, Katie. On my site I talk almost exclusively about smartphones and despite drinking that kool-aid I’ve long maintained that battery is the achilles heel. Li-on and Ni-cad won’t liberate us. Maybe someone will invent workable, affordable wireless power over Wifi. Or, we can go all in with hydrogen fuel cells with mini hydrogen refill bars at every coffee shop or place that has Wifi. Fortunately, Moore’s Law exists elsewhere. And as other hardware gets better, smaller, faster, less power-draining, we can just add bigger batteries. It’s something…

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  3. Reality Check! The same physics applies to silicon and/or battery material. In fact some of the biggest leaps forward in both fields can be attributed to the same branch of science, nano technology.

    Altairnano and A123 both developed revolutionary batteries using nano technology to increase the surface area of materials. There is ALOT more work going on in this field.

    Try doing some research on Graphene for example, you won’t find that on any astaroid. It’s still in the lab but they’re looking at it potentially as a replacment for silicon in chips AND doubling the storage capacity of current ultra capacitors as it has an extremely high surface area to mass ratio.

    The list of examples goes on!

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