We should all be thankful that an Italian from the Lake Como region with the cool name of Alessandro Volta invented the battery, because if it was a German we’d be asking our electrician to install a 220 Stromspannug circuit for the washing machine. The battery was an amazing discovery, so humanity obviously decided there was no need to improve it very much for the next 200 years, while electrical power generation improved by about a billion percent. Finally in the last few decades people started realizing how much batteries suck and started to work on improving them.
Rechargeable battery technology has also been stuck in the muck of the 19th century. About 25 years ago there was really only one type of rechargeable battery – and it was the same type of rechargeable battery that existed 100 years before then. Similar to Henry Ford’s Model T, you could choose whatever battery you wanted, as long as it was lead-acid. But Ni-Cad, NiMH, and then lithium technology finally started to hit the market in the 1990’s and now many of us own several lithium-ion batteries in our phones, laptops and power tools. Battery technology still improves slowly compared to the technologies that use electrical power – but it is looking like that might change in the future, and we’re starting to make some real progress now.
The energy density of even the most advanced batteries is still very low compared to even petroleum based fuels, and attempts to force electrical power grids to switch to “renewable” energy sources is insanity, at least to those of us who understand math. If we really want clean energy, we need to build a few hundred thousand thorium nuclear reactors, for a start. But it is true that you might not be able to carry a coal, oil, or nuclear power plant in your pocket (yet), and as battery technology continues to advance people are finding many more uses for lightweight rechargeable energy storage.
Lead-acid batteries are still widely used, mostly because they are inexpensive compared to lithium. But prices continue to fall for lithium batteries, and, if you are willing to build your own batteries from individual cells, you can make your own very powerful lithium batteries relatively inexpensively, and these batteries will last much longer than lead-acid, weigh much less, take up less space, charge much quicker, and provide a lot more electricity.
Let’s take a look at current lithium battery technology, perhaps look down the road another 10-20 years and see what is coming, and learn how you can swap out your 125 year old battery technology for cool new lithium batteries, without draining your entire bank account.
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