Turn the clock back a few decades, and the average person would have thought more about batteries when the power went out, and they suddenly needed to juice up their flashlight or portable radio. But today, high capacity batteries have become a part of our increasingly digital lifestyle. In fact, it’s very likely that the device you’re reading this on is currently running on battery power, or at least, is capable of it.
So let’s get to know the battery better. What is the chemical process that allows them to work? For that matter, what is a battery in the first place?
These same questions, and many more, are what fueled this week’s Battery Engineering Hack chat with Dave Sopchak. Our last Hack Chat of 2022 ended up being the longest in recent memory, with the conversation starting an hour before the scheduled kickoff and lasting more than half an hour when emcee Dan Maloney officially made his closing remarks . Not bad for a subject that is often taken for granted.
Somewhat paradoxically, the Battery Engineering Hack Chat actually began with a lively discussion about fuel cells – a topic Dave also has considerable experience with. Given that he drove the Apollo missions to the Moon back in the 1960s, you’d think that he’d make it into the old Wagon Queen family Truckster by now.
The reality is that we lack a hydrogen distribution network that would make such vehicles practical, but of course no one will build that network unless there is demand, so it’s a recurring problem. As far as the fuel cells powering our homes are concerned, Dave points out that those units run on natural gas, making them unattractive given the strong push toward renewable resources.
From there, the topic moves on to supercapacitors, which in turn leads to a discussion of what a battery is and is not. The average Hackaday reader surely knows that a capacitor and a battery are conceptually similar in that they store energy, but the comparison ends there. As Dave points out, to be considered a true battery, a chemical reaction must occur. While we may not realize it, there is actually quite a lot going on inside that simple lithium-ion pouch; The positive and negative electrodes will change their volume significantly as they go from a discharge to a charged state, a product of oxidation and reduction.
Dave goes on to say that it is because of the inherently dynamic nature of batteries that he takes issue with the so-called “solid-state batteries” that many hope will provide the next generation of portable power. A true solid-state component, which is a semiconductor device with no moving parts, will not experience a change in volume during use. So as the electrodes inside a battery experience oxidation or reduction, they cannot be solid-state by definition.
Dave says the “unofficial and ever-expanding definition” of what makes a battery only serves to muddy the waters around the technology. As another example, the radioisotope “batteries” that power deep space probes and Mars rovers are more properly known as betavoltaics – in that they generate power not through a chemical reaction but through beta particles emitted from a radioactive source. provide.
The chat really covers a lot of ground, isn’t entirely battery tech related, and makes for fun reading on a long winter night. We’d like to thank Dave Sopchak for stopping by and encouraging such an engaging and lively discussion, closing out the 2022 season of Hack Chats on a decidedly high note.
We’re currently shortlisting exciting hosts for 2023, and you could be one of them! If you would like to be considered for Hack Chat, simply fill out the application form and tell us what you would like to talk about.
Hack Chat is a weekly online chat session hosted by leading experts from all corners of the hardware hacking universe. It’s a great way for hackers to connect in a fun and informal way, but if you can’t make it live, these overview posts as well as the transcript posted on Hackaday.io make sure you don’t miss out.