Battery Innovation Lags in Cellphones

WSJ writes about how more power-hungry features are coming on to the cellphones, and the need for more powerful batteries:

Most battery makers put the average annual percentage gains in energy density — the amount of power crammed into a battery — at below 10%. Optimists believe breakthroughs could result in a total of 40% to 50% gains over time. Others caution that lithium-ion technology is approaching its physical limits.

Meanwhile, new generations of multimedia phones are consuming increasingly more power than standard cellphones, especially when bright screens and heavy data transmission are involved.

Makers of computer hard drives and microchips faced similar problems and so far have managed to keep extending the apparent limits of the technology. But over the next decade or so that will likely end, and researchers will need to come up with some new approaches to data storage and processing.

There is some hope that methanol-filled fuel cells, which can provide five to 10 times as much energy as the average rechargeable battery, will help solve the power crunch. But none of the manufacturers expects them on the mass market for a few years, and even then there are big questions about their price, size and safety.

So, technology companies are doing what they often do best, squeezing incremental mileage out of old technologies. This is the unglamorous bread-and-butter side of places like Silicon Valley. With multimedia cellphones, it means manufacturers are pushing for more energy-efficient chips. It means fine-tuning software to minimize unneeded power consumption. It means adjusting display brightness and colors on the fly, because dazzling, power-consuming images aren’t needed to display the number you’re dialing, for example.

Researchers are also looking beyond the handset to innovations such as “smart” antennas that use tricks to reduce the power that phones consume in sending voice and data signals.

Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.