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This Battery Breakthrough Changes Everything

March 1, 2020
It’s “like having an ordinary DieHard or Interstate battery in your shirt pocket.” Most EEs say it’s about time.

Series: April 1, 2020: What's Trending in Technology?

Battery technology has lagged all other electrical and electronic developments for decades. Some have actually said we’re not much further along from the development of the long-lived lead-acid battery that’s been around since its invention in 1859. The reason for its long life is that very few new batteries have been able to deliver that kind of power in a reasonably sized package.

The biggest recent development was the lithium-ion battery with its excellent power per size-weight rating, which has gradually been replacing many others in portable gear like smartphones. It’s also slated to be the prime power source in our future vehicles, the EVs, and self-drivers. But now with this recent announcement, that could change.

At their press conference last week, the Battery Advanced Development Inc. announced its breakthrough battery technology. The new battery uses an unusual combination of chemicals for the electrodes and the electrolyte, an elixir they would not divulge. Unlike some of the new batteries that require special rare chemicals, this battery uses a stew of ingredients that are all readily available from existing resources.

With patents pending, the company is working toward producing a signature product. Now that the chemistry is out of the way, the next step is the engineering and manufacturing to mass-produce some versions of the product profitably.

A Peek at the New Battery

The company hasn’t decided on a physical form factor yet, but apparently it will be possible to produce standard sizes like D, C, AA, and AAA cells. And it doesn’t have to be as large as the typical car battery.

At the press conference, they showed a prototype about the size of a deck of cards. It has impressive specifications. The nominal output voltage is 13 V, which kind of makes one wonder what chemical cocktail they’re using. Cell voltage is 4.3 V and three are required to make the 13-V battery.

But that’s not the real eye-opener. This battery can supply as much current as a car battery. One of the demos at the press conference involved starting a car with just the new miniature battery. Like having an ordinary DieHard or Interstate battery in your shirt pocket. Impressive. Maybe unbelievable is a better word to describe it.

The Good News and the Bad News

This new battery really is a major development. It will change some things, but not others. In my assessment, there will be some positive outcomes but with some conditions. For starters, this is a primary battery—not a secondary battery—so it’s not rechargeable. When they’re used up, you need to get a new one. You will have to replace them probably at high cost, initially at least.

Instead of recharging your electric vehicle overnight, you simply open the car hood and replace the batteries like you would change the AA cells in flashlight. This is good news for the battery company, as a constant supply will be needed. Time to buy stock in Battery Advanced Development?

At the press conference, the CEO introduced the company’s development team, literally three heavily bearded guys working for a couple of years in an uninsulated cinderblock building in Oklahoma. All three were close college buds, two chemists and one EE. No names were given. They are part of a subsidiary research organization called Advanced Science Systems. I wanted to ask how they arrived at the chemical combination that produced the breakthrough, but they took no questions.

The other bad news is that a whole boatload of dead batteries will need to be disposed. There was no discussion of this; maybe an environmental crisis in the making.

But look on the positive side. Batteries like this will make electric vehicles practical at last. And perhaps, they will lead to applications like replacing solar-powered homes with battery power. Or minimizing the need for wind power. Based upon a good battery life, you could run your whole home from a few of these batteries and some inverters. You just have to keep a stock of these replacement batteries on hand as they will eventually fail.

Imagine yourself on a driving trip in Nebraska. While driving on I80 near Cheyenne, Wyo., your EV dies. You get out your spare battery and replace it. It’s not as big or heavy as your spare tire. Your EV requires the near 800-V level to run the motor and other things. Be careful as you plug in that new hot 800-V dc supply.

What Do You Think?

Yes, this is a significant battery breakthrough, but with reservations. Are the downsides less than the upsides? And forget about charging, it’s not an option. Keep a spare battery in your EV at all times. Thankfully it will be small. While other EV users will be waiting in line at the only charging station in Nebraska, you will be hours ahead on your way to Wyoming.

The founders of the company and its subsidiary concluded the press conference with a summary of the VC interest. Will a one-million-square-foot battery factory in the desert of Utah become a reality? Is it time to invest or not? If you were a VC, would you?

Look for our follow-up articles as we are closely tracking the progress of this development. If we can get a representative battery, we will run some tests to see where this bizarre new battery fits into the battery spectrum. Stay tuned.

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