A couple of years ago, one of the great underlying fears in the mobile community was that the limitations on powering would curtail the functionality of devices and chill innovation. Those fears led to an impressive ramp-up of industry and academic research into alternatives, from direct methanol fuel cells (DMFCs) to more exotic options, such as generating energy from the user's steps while walking.
A few things seem to have alleviated the challenge. Devices, because of the advent of mobile video and the desire for bigger screens, actually are expanding. The bigger the device, the more room there is for the battery and the more energy it can store. The power scare has led to better on-device power management.
For whatever reason, life suddenly seems good for lithium-ion batteries, which are common in mobile devices. This week, IDG Energy Insights released research claiming that manufacturing capacity for lithium-ion batteries will grow 390 percent from 2011 to 2015. The report credits plug-in electric vehicles for much of the rise. The total growth in demand for lithium-ion batteries will be 447 percent during the period of the study.
What the press release doesn't say is whether the growth of research and capacity in the lithium-ion battery sector aimed at big things - cars and the power grid - is having a positive impact on the small batteries used in mobile devices. The one hint in the release is this sentence:
Li-ion batteries are the preferred battery type in a number of applications ranging from plug-in electric vehicles to computers to power tools, based on their flexibility, durability, energy density, and power capabilities.
The bottom line is that what seemed like a tremendous challenge a few years ago has receded, at least to a point. It also seems highly likely that the work being done by the battery industry on powering the big items is flowing down to mobile devices.
Whether connected to that ongoing research or separate, there are advances being made that support lithium-ion batteries used by smaller devices. Earlier this month, Texas Instruments introduced an integrated circuit designed, it says, "to support higher cell capacity batteries and increasing battery charge currents of tablets, e-readers and smartphones." The release describes the single-cell circuit.
Also last week, Johns Hopkins University research looked at sensors it has developed to keep lithium-ion batteries from overheating and catching fire. Knowingly selling such batteries recently proved to be a problem for HP, which settled a claim for $425,000.