The modern world consumes power at a very fast pace. So much of what we use consumes electrical power, whether it’s right out of the socket like home appliances or through stored power, like a mobile phone. Batteries are part of that crucial energy infrastructure that keeps our lives going and lets our devices be as useful as they are.
However, not all devices have the same needs. A smartphone battery has to power a lot of things, but it’s not the same sort of energy-providing object that you’d find in an RC car. Different batteries service different needs, and each one has properties and advantages that make them suitable for specific functions.
Nickel-cadmium is a battery type that does well if you charge it fast. It’s a powerhouse and can take a lot of strain, as well as working under difficult conditions. It’s the battery of choice for power tools and electronics with high-energy requirements but does have a few weaknesses. Periodic discharge can be an issue and you’ll want to discharge the battery periodically to prolong its lifespan.
NiCd remains a popular choice because of how easy it is to store and transport, lacking the sensitivity of others. It’s also rugged and can take much more abuse, while still having good value. They recharge at low temperatures better than others and can last up to five years in storage conditions.
A related type is a nickel-metal hydride or NiMH. These are driven by the need to have high energy density in smaller packages, along with the use of materials that are friendlier to the environment. Modern variants of this provide up to 40% more power, and there’s potential for even greater capacity as the technology develops.
However, NiMH is also less durable. They tend to cycle under storage and are more prone to damage in high temperatures. Whether this can counterbalance the advantages is up to you. NiMH is known to be simple to transport, though not by air. They are also environmentally friendly and don’t need periodic full discharges. The low maintenance makes them a great replacement for devices that are used infrequently.
In many cases, NiMH is used as an intermediate step. They’re used in the same sorts of devices as nickel-cadmium, but also as a way to transition into the use of lithium-based batteries.
The battery type most known to the average consumer is lithium-ion. These are the packs that power most of the mobile phones in the world, along with other portable electronics. This is a battery that needs low maintenance, giving it a distinct chemical advantage over its peers. There is a lower rate of self-discharge and no need for scheduled cycling, as well as causing little to no environmental damage during disposal.
Li-Ion does have a few weaknesses. The protection circuit has to be perfect, otherwise, it is unsafe and could damage everything from your Scondar connectors to the processors on the board. The battery can also achieve extremely high temperatures, which means most cellphones have thermal throttling in place to reduce the risk.
However, there is little to no risk of overcharge with these batteries. There are various ways the cells can be specialized, allowing them to be used in all sorts of applications. The higher density also means there is potential for a single cell to store more power than is currently possible.
Finally, there are lithium polymer batteries, which stand out due to the nature of the electrolyte used. The plastic-like film in these batteries allows for the exchange of ions, even if it doesn’t conduct electrical current. These batteries have very similar chemistries and materials to their counterparts that use a liquid electrolyte.
The costs for manufacturing them are low, but also deform more readily than others. Device designs need to be altered around the nature of the battery, including how it is accessed and used. Yet, the thin geometries allow it to compete in a market that increasingly looks towards making devices smaller and more compact.
These batteries are also lightweight but pack more charge density compared to cells of other types for the same physical dimensions. The resistance to overcharge is much higher and there is a lower risk of electrolytes leaking into the device. This is giving them a nice in the mobile phone arena, where their form factor fits well with the compact designs.
For the time being, these haven’t found their niche yet. Their adoption is slow, due to the change in mindset required in designing electronics to make use of the new style of a cell. As the technology matures, this situation is expected to change.
Batteries are the core of so much of the modern world. It’s important to know which ones are best at which tasks, and what new developments may offer existing tech. While lithium polymer could be the wave of the future, there’s still room for nickel-based technologies and lithium-ion batteries to grow.