We love our Android devices. We love our high powered processors, large, sharp screens, high speed LTE networks and of course, running all manner of applications and games. Unfortunately, our powerful devices come at a cost: battery. Google and the manufacturers have changed how our devices work in order to conserve precious battery (the Galaxy S5 has two power saving modes, the Galaxy S has none). However, so far the best answer to the battery life problem is to pack a bigger battery: the Samsung Galaxy S had a 1,500 mAh battery whereas the Samsung Galaxy S5, released four years later, has a 2,800 mAh battery. Android devices have used lithium ion battery technology since the start and although we’ve seen some small improvement in the battery capacity technology (notably, batteries can be made smaller, more flexible and run at a higher voltage, which improved efficiency) and more significant changes in charging technology (Qualcomm Quick Charge for example) the differences are insignificant compared to the other advances we’ve seen with our devices. Lithium ion batteries have several mechanical and chemical properties and preferences. They don’t like extremes of heat and cold. In the cold, they are unable to deliver current and at higher temperatures, their chemical properties break down. That’s why we try to keep our devices at body temperature or cooler, give or take.
Internally, lithium ion batteries deliver their power by a flow of lithium ions from the negative electrode to the positive electrode during use, and back again when being recharged. The ions flow through a pressurised electrolyte and over time this liquid electrolyte decomposes to form a solid layer on the negative electrode. This restricts the flow of ions and reduces the capacity of the battery. Now, scientists have developed a different kind of electrode constructed from cobalt oxide mesophorous nanospheres (set phasers to stun!) that significantly reduces the chemical degradation. In other words, the battery is able to keep working without losing capacity for much longer. This development joins a study by researchers at Stanford University and the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, which suggests that rapid charging and discharging of lithium ion batteries is not as damaging as believed. The study stated that by adjusting the electrode, researchers could increase the rate of recharging while maintaining a longer battery life (the experiments showed no material loss in capacity after 7,000 cycles). However, this is only a preliminary assessment and there is much work to be done. The research now needs to experiment and inspect batteries after many thousands of charge and discharge cycles to assess the impact of the new materials.
It’s good to see research at both ends of the battery equation, both getting energy into the battery and keeping them in better condition. These changes don’t mean that we’ll get any longer to an individual charge, but devices with a sealed-in battery should hopefully last longer and when we only have half an hour, we can at least put a decent amount of juice into our battery without worrying of the longer term impact.