Batteries: Unsung Hero in the Electronics Revolution?


The miniaturization of electronics has had a tremendous impact on our lives. Beginning well before the advent of the Sony Walkman and the 20-lb. “portable” computers of the early 1980s, Moore’s Law has delivered increasingly more powerful and less expensive electronics. However, some of us may have missed a parallel miniaturization and performance improvement that have been occurring for over 10 years: Batteries.

Most of us remember the short battery life of a 1995 mobile phone. If asked we would probably agree that the rechargeable batteries today are significantly better. It is less obvious for our laptop computers, as a battery charge has lasted about 2 hours or so for the past 10 years. The laptop situation masks the dramatic improvement in batteries because today’s laptops use many times the power of one from a decade ago.

The battery bottom line: The miniaturization and energy density improvements in portable electronics rechargeable batteries has been breathtaking in the last decade.

Are there any additional benefits from this battery technology? For the first time in the history of transportation, an electric car couples a practical cruising range (more than 200 miles between charges) with the performance of a sports car. At 135 mpg equivalent, 0 to 60 mph in 3.9 sec., 220 miles per charge, and energy costs of about $0.02/mile, the Tesla Roadster portends the development of a practical, electric powered automobile within five years. It’s pricey — about $100,000 — and, as a sports car, is likely impractical as a family vehicle, but Tesla is showing the way. And it is powered with hundreds of laptop batteries, which will only continue to get better. In a day of $130 per barrel of oil, we should all find this comforting.

It is surprising to me that this breakthrough has not received more publicity.

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About Dr. Ron

Materials expert Dr. Ron Lasky is a professor of engineering and senior lecturer at Dartmouth, and senior technologist at Indium Corp. He has a Ph.D. in materials science from Cornell University, and is a prolific author and lecturer, having published more than 40 papers. He received the SMTA Founders Award in 2003.