Since the invention of the lithium-ion battery in 1980 by John B. Goodenough and his research team, battery technology has remained mostly stagnant. Don’t get me wrong. The lithium-ion battery has seen improvements in chemistry and safety, and it has continued to increase its energy density by about 7% per year. But many think its potential has peaked.
These batteries can’t power flying vertical take-off jets such as Lilium or the new generation of electric vehicles and robotaxis. That kind of power requires batteries that hold a charge of 500 watts/kg. As of January 2020, we are currently around 330 Watts/kg. In order for the electric vehicle industry to grow and compete with combustible-engine cars, batteries will need to charge faster, last longer and cost less.
Colleges and universities around the world are heavily involved in research and development. They may be the ones to bring us the next great battery technology. But for-profit companies such as Tesla, Uber, Toyota, Mercedes, IBM, BMW, Panasonic, and Samsung are knuckling down on their research and development, and investing in hiring the best engineers. It is now a full-fledged race to create a battery chemistry that will power the future.
These are only a few of the innovations in batteries. Dozens more exist that may supply the next generation’s evolution in transportation, medical science, habitation and fitness.
If I had to guess where the next big leap in battery technology will emerge, I would bet on graphene. Graphene’s electronic properties have already been proven. However, it’s thickness of one atom makes it very difficult to mass produce in a cost-efficient way. Graphene is also made from one of the earth’s most abundant and inexpensive resources: carbon. When mass produced efficiently, graphene will boost battery energy storage and charging speed and immediately used to bump the energy absorption in solar panels.
The current rate of exponential growth in technology is nearly impossible for most of us to grasp. But the decade from 2020 to 2030 should bring more technical change than we’ve seen up to now the whole of human history. And the scariest part, or best, depending on your point of view, is it’s only going to pick up speed.
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