Not long ago, rechargeable batteries weren’t nearly as useful as they are today. If you’re of a certain age, you can probably remember owning an early portable game console like a Game Boy and watching it chew through package after package of batteries. Maybe your parents bought some rechargeable batteries – Nickel-cadmium batteries were the most common rechargeable batteries for consumers in those days – and you found that the battery life of your device actually got worse.
Rechargeable batteries have come a long way since those days, and we have lithium-ion battery technology to thank for that in large part. Today, portable electronic devices last longer than ever between battery charges – and we enjoy that increased battery life in spite of the fact that today’s devices are infinitely more capable than the devices of the past. They’re also dramatically smaller and lighter. Lithium-ion batteries may have their shortcomings, but they’re also the things that make our modern lifestyle possible. These are the products that lithium-ion batteries have completely transformed.
The major technology of the 20th century – the burning of fossil fuels for energy – changed the world both for the better and for the worse. Fossil fuels have given us absolutely everything, from affordable and reliable power to cars and airplanes that give us the freedom to go anywhere quickly. In this century, however, we’re dealing with the fallout of our reliance on that technology. Burning any fossil fuel results in carbon dioxide emissions, and we have now reached the point where our planet’s carbon dioxide levels are higher than they’ve been at any point in the last 800,000 years. Climate change has become a subject of intense worldwide concern, and the only way to mitigate the problem is by drastically and immediately cutting our carbon emissions.
Since transportation is the biggest single source of greenhouse gas emissions, it seems obvious that zero-emission vehicles are the future – and given the price of gas these days, it’s rapidly getting to the point where electric vehicles are actually going to become more affordable than conventional cars. Without lithium-ion batteries, though, it wouldn’t be possible to create electric vehicles with the long ranges that consumers expect. The General Motors EV1 – released in 1996 – had a driving range of just 55 miles in its original incarnation with a lead-acid battery. With a modern Tesla Model 3, you can drive up to 353 miles on a full battery charge.
A battery-powered cigarette? At first glance, cigarettes might appear to have no place in a list of products that have been revolutionized by lithium-ion batteries. If that’s the way you feel, though, it’s only because you’ve never been a smoker yourself and aren’t aware of the existence of electronic cigarettes. Vaping products from companies like V2 Cigs UK substitute the tobacco in cigarettes with a flavored nicotine-infused liquid called e-liquid or vape juice. In addition to eliminating the tobacco, e-cigarettes also eliminate combustion. In an e-cigarette, a coiled heating wire boils the e-liquid, turning it to vapor so the user can inhale it. Inhaling the vapor allows the user to absorb the nicotine while simultaneously enjoying the flavor of the e-liquid.
The lithium-ion battery has revolutionized cigarettes by giving people an alternative way of getting nicotine that’s just as satisfying as tobacco. Other forms of nicotine replacement have been around for decades, but most of those nicotine replacement therapies are absorbed through the mouth or the skin. Those absorption methods are incredibly slow compared to inhalation, and the fact that the nicotine is absorbed through the lungs is precisely what has enabled tens of millions of smokers to switch to vaping and stop using tobacco products.
Can you imagine what your life would be like if you didn’t have a computer capable of lasting all day on a single battery charge? It was only about a decade ago, though, that such a thing would have seemed almost impossible. In those days, the typical laptop computer had a removable battery pack filled with several cylindrical lithium-ion cells. With a standard-capacity battery, you’d be lucky to get more than two hours of use out of your computer between charges.
Two factors have helped to remedy that problem. The first factor is miniaturization and the combining of computers’ internal components into fewer chips. Computers’ motherboards are smaller than ever now, and that means a greater portion of a modern computer’s internal space is otherwise empty. That leaves more room for the battery, and flat lithium-ion battery packs have allowed manufacturers to create batteries that fill virtually all of a computer’s internal space. Today, a modern laptop can easily last through an entire work day without breaking a sweat.
Lithium-ion battery technology has also been immensely valuable for the performance of your other favorite computer – your smartphone. Your smartphone has the equivalent computing power of what would have been considered a supercomputer a couple of decades ago – and just like a modern laptop, you can usually expect to use your phone all day without needing to charge it. That would have never been possible without today’s high-capacity flat lithium-ion batteries.
Speaking of consumer products that can do more than people would have ever imagined a few years ago, watches have truly advanced in their capabilities by leaps and bounds over the past decade. The revolution began with wearable fitness trackers that people used to monitor their workout progress. Next, companies like Apple realized that they could create watches incorporating many of the features of fitness trackers along with a number of other new technologies that today’s tech-savvy consumers would truly enjoy.
Today, your watch does far more than just telling you the time and date. You can use it as an interface for your phone; it’ll allow you to answer calls and respond to text messages without removing your phone from your pocket. You can play games on modern watches. The most important feature of today’s smartwatches, though, is an unprecedented level of health monitoring. Your watch can measure your vital statistics and tell you if you might be ill. It can monitor your heart rate and record an EKG in the event of an abnormal heart rhythm. Very soon, your watch will even be able to monitor your blood-glucose levels in real time. Without lithium-ion batteries, none of those features would have ever been possible.