It was 1991 when Sony introduced the world to the rechargeable lithium-ion battery. Having been first proposed in the 1970s, lithium-ion batteries were initially thought to be impractical. Early researchers figured that they could never create a battery small or efficient enough to be worthwhile. They turned out to be wrong. Dead wrong, in fact.
To say that lithium-ion batteries are ubiquitous in the 2020s is to state the obvious. Electronics manufacturers rely on them for power. Companies like Utah-based Pale Blue Earth manufacture and sell them. Even car companies are developing better lithium-ion batteries in hopes of eliminating the internal combustion engine.
Try to imagine what your life would be like without rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. It would probably be drastically different. If you are not old enough to remember the emergence of consumer electronics, you might not remember a time before battery chargers and USB cords.
Forget the Cell Phone
The technology to build a cell phone actually predated the device by decades. In fact, the earliest mobile phones were used by telephone companies to test their lines. The main problem with these early phones was a lack of portable power. Disposable alkaline batteries were impractical because phones would have consumed them like water.
Simply put, you wouldn’t have a cell phone if it weren’t for lithium-ion batteries. Whether your phone has a removable battery or one hardwired to the chassis, it is a battery that can be charged 1,000 times or more. You probably plug it in every night before you go to bed. And if you are like many people, you might have to charge your phone once or twice during the day.
For the record, people survived just fine without cell phones. Back in the day, phone conversations were limited to landlines. Communicating with someone half-way across the country meant paying long distance rates or writing a letter. Life was different back then. It was just as good, though.
Say Bye-Bye to That Laptop
Nearly every modern laptop computer is powered by a lithium-ion battery. Earlier models featured NiCad and NiMH batteries, but it was apparent to computer manufacturers that those older technologies were not making the grade. They jumped on lithium-ion as soon as the batteries became available.
Your laptop can run on battery power for hours thanks to lithium-ion technology. And when you run the battery down, you can recharge it in an hour or so. The convenience lithium-ion batteries offer laptop users could never be achieved with alkaline, NiCad, or NiMH batteries.
Those early laptop computers were comparatively heavy as well. Not only were electronics heavier, but so were the batteries. One needed a rather bulky NiCad or NiMH battery to provide enough power to make it worthwhile. Today’s laptop batteries are lighter because their power density is so much greater. Higher power density allows manufacturers to make batteries smaller and lighter.
Tesla Would Still Be a Dream
We could go on and on, but the best way to end this post is to talk about Tesla. The car company named after the famous inventor owes its existence to lithium-ion batteries. If the batteries did not exist, the company probably wouldn’t, either. Their whole promise of a fully electric vehicle with hundreds of miles of range is based on building a better lithium-ion battery.
You can say the world runs on lithium-ion batteries. Without them, many of the electronic devices we take for granted would simply not exist. Next time you think life is rough because one of your electronic devices stops working, think about what life was like before those devices were invented.