You raised the big battery elephant in the room question at the end, Chuck, about capacity. Will capacities rise to 4.2A-hr or 4.4A-hr? This of course relates directly to product weight. If capacities don't rise, eventually (soon, actually) portable devices relying on these things will hit a design wall, and the heavier devices will end up being performance-impaired.
Is there some kind of Moore's law governing capacity in batteries as there is in processor design? Perhaps a technology that's the equivalent of multi-core for batteries? It would seem there would have to be as devices get smaller malland ser and as as people become ever more reliant on them on a 24/7 cycle. I don't see that demand dissipating any time soon.
What are the safety issues with the laminate-style lithium polymer batteries? It seemed that there was a lot of buzz a couple years ago about potential fires or even small explosions with lithium batteries, but I don't hear much about it anymore. Are these issues addressed in the polymer technology, laminate constructions or just in more robust housings? (Or not at all.)
The problem before was in cotnrolling the batteries themal characteristics. Sometimes if the battery was being discharged too rapidly the temperature rose and created the issues already noted. Smae thing can happen when charging the batteries. I think the solution was in the modification of the chemistry involved.
In terms of energy storage the total energy stored is getting interesting. And any uncontrolled release of that energy has to be dealt with in a safe manner. consider a stick of dynamite. I am not sure exactly how much energy it stores but when it is released suddenly it has dramatic effects. If that same energy could be controlled and released gradually in the form of electric current it would make a fine storage device but probably not rechargeable.
If one had a Lithium-Ion type battery with the same energy storage potential as a comparable size stick of dynamite it would certainly warrant very careful attention to catastrophic failure modes.
As I recall from chemistry class, the most energetic chemical reaction is the conversion of H to H2. That is Monatomic Hydrogen binding with another free Hydrogen into diatomic Hydrogen, H2. I believe it also liberates an electron. Probably not possible to make a battery out of it.
The increased energy capacity combined with the lighter weight and the high discharge rates of Lithium Ion batteries has completely transformed certain areas of model airplane flying. Using battery power instead of gasoline or other liquid fuels has been played with for a long time but the emergency of the Lithium Ion in a soft, flexible (and lower weight) has completely transformed the hobby. Many fliers of Radio Controlled (R/C) planes have completely switched over to electric power (I know that I have) for planes ranging from very, very small (sub-ounce weights) to very large aircraft.
Electric propulsion systems have also expanded into control line planes (U/C - planes which fly with lines attached) and free flight (just fire them up and launch them into the air!). Absolutely amazing and quite liberating - no starters, no fuel cans, pumps, batteries for glow plugs, etc. Wonderful.
Of course there has been a bit of learning curve for the hobby. We needed new safety procedures (there is a lot of energy in a charged battery and they have been known to break into flame), new ways (using electronic speed controllers) to control motor speed, new brushless motors for high speed and high output applications, special battery chargers (seems like every battery chemistry has it's own special requirements for charging and maintenance) and the like.
That wasn't a lithium-polymer battery! It was an SLA (sealed lead-acid) one, and it was made by Gates (as I recall) quite a few years ago. They were the first to use a "super-gelled" electrolyte to make an extremely leak-proof cell structure. I saw a demo (of a nail being driven through one of their batteries which continued to deliver full power to a load!) at Comdex in Atlanta back in the 1980's. Very impressive!
Ahhh, I remember the company now. They joined with Dow to form Dow Kokam Battery. Kokam has a patented construction method that keeps the battery "safe". I recall seeing a demo video. Check out http://www.dowkokam.com/tech-cells.htm
The advances in processors have all been in production technique, not in fundamental breakthroughs. There is a big difference there. Probably production advances will improve reliability and possibly reduce cost, but breakthroughs are different.
And PLEASE don't get anything started where folks just assume that improvements will just continue to happen. That would be a pain to deal with.
Moore's Law IS just assuming that improvements will continue to happen.
Each company in Integrated Circuit design and manufacturing assumes that Moore's Law will continue, so they have been driven to compete by setting their goals for that level of improvement that Moore's Law predicts and then doing whatever it takes to get there.
There have been many obstacles since 1965 when Moore wrote that prediction that became Moore's Law, but the industry plowed through those obstacles. While the geometric shrinking has been the main method of achieving increased density, that is becoming too costly, so vertically sandwitching multiple layers of transistors is being attempted. There are already manufacturers tooling up for that. When that happens, density will double - and then more verticle layers will be added - and so on.
I think that I need to clarify a bit about the Moore's law about semiconductors and integrated circuits. Most of those advances that allowed for more transistors and tighter packaging were developments in the same manufacturing process, and all of them represented advances in the MANUFACTURING PROCESS. They were not the result of new discoveries or fundamentally new technologies, they have been process improvements.
The next change in betteries will need to be a fundamentally different technology, not just a process improvement. Process improvements will indeed bring us smaller and cheaper batteries, but not the large increase in capacity, (energy density) that we need in order to make electric cars a competitive reality. Some new chemistry or with elements that have a greater energy storage capacity, possibly lithium-flourine, may be a choice, except for the obvious tendancy toward explosion.
The worst thing would indeed be for those who don't have a clue as to what Moore's Law is really about to decide the future based on an assumption that the advances will come no matter what, and that we can be certain that the advances will be made "in time". That would be the setup for a serious dissapointment indeed.
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