Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Moore's Law for Batteries?


Most of you reading this have heard of Moore’s Law and most of you are familiar with the idea of the technological singularity and that Moore’s law is just one element on that exponential curve. Other elements include the steady reduction in cost of that computing. This in turn relates to the shrinking time and cost of decoding a genome … if you want to learn more about all that just head over to the Singularity Hub and do some reading, or watch a few Ray Kurzweil interviews.


But I’ve been thinking about batteries and other forms of power storage. We have exoskeletons now that enable the crippled to walk and, if you check out ‘Boston Dynamics’ on You Tube you’ll find some excellent robots. But these exoskeletons, even though they have FDA approval and are being trailed in America have unwieldy and short-lived power packs, while the robots you mostly see are running at the end of a power cable. We need smaller or more powerful batteries, super- and ultra-capacitors so, what I was wondering is, is there a Moore’s Law for batteries? Opinions vary:

Energy efficiencies have gotten pretty good…but the scary thing when you look at it from a capacity and efficiency standpoint with regard to weight and volume, it hasn’t really changed that much. It’s clearly improving, and I think costs have gotten a little bit better, but not all that much either. When you compare it with the electronics that we’re using it with and Moore’s Law, it’s basically standing still,”

...because there’s not currently a Moore’s Law for batteries, and I’m doubtful that we’re going to ever hit a Moore’s Law-style pace of accelerated progress and lowered costs for batteries. Yes, batteries will come down in price and become smaller, but at nowhere near the same speed — and with a lot less progress — as to be able to be compared to Moore’s Law.

Sure, the Moore’s Law of electric cars  – “the cost per mile of the electric car battery will be cut in half every 18 months” — will steadily drive the cost down, says Agassi, but only once we get scale production going. U.S. companies can do that on their own or in collaboration with Chinese ones. 


But I guess we have to remember what an exponential curve looks like and remember we might not be on the rapid up slope with batteries – on this one we might well be right down in the bottom left of that blue box.

What do you think?  

9 comments:

Jordan179 said...

Two developments, the first of which I think will happen within the next half-century and the second of which I think will happen within the next couple of centuries, will greatly increase battery energy storage densities.

The first will be the physical manipulation of molecules through nanomachinery to create molecules with deliberately deformed shapes that put great stress on normally-stable chemical bonds, which will allow them to be broken when desired, essentially creating controlled miniature hyperexplosions. These might be shaped either to directly create electrical currents, or indirectly to create heat to operate a fuel cell. I'm guessing that this will eventually increase battery storage densities by an order of magnitude or two.

The second will be the development of molecular structures whose magnetic fields can contain very tiny amounts of antimatter. This will allow the controlled and relatively safe (compared to macroscopic magnetic bottling) containment and release of antimatter. The extent to which this will increase storage densities will be immense, with the theoretical maximum limit being the total conversion of mass into energy, and the actual limit being set by the need for a robust containment structure so that quantum fluctuations doesn't make the whole battery go BOOM.

Neal Asher said...

Here's hoping there won't be so many terrorists about then, Jordan.

vaudeviewgalor raandisisraisins said...

..or a better idea what a terror plot/terrorist group is.

http://tinyurl.com/ap9q3pb

Larry said...

Hmm well Im familiar with sod's law...

Dan said...

The major obstacle to developing better battery technology is fabricating better and better micro-scale structures. At the moment, most batteries have significant internal resistance, which makes the battery get hot when it is recharged.

What will likely happen incrementally over time is better and better control over self-assembling micro-structures, which will lead to better and better capacities and recharge rates in battery technology; this is already happening though the problem is speeding up manufacture as well as improving the technology.

Once we get a car battery which will power a car for a couple of hundred miles and recharge in minutes, then we'll start to see widespread uptake of electric vehicles. Once this happens, as long as governments manage to keep themselves from interfering overly much, we will then see increasing levels of vehicle automation to the extent that cars will pretty much drive themselves.

Neal Asher said...

Jordan I guess 'battery' is too limited a word. The possibilities with fuel cells, capacitors and probably things we haven't thought of yet are boundless. But right now I want that Mr Fusion from Back to the Future.

Vaude, I see your big-government cynicism is showing again. Probably quite rightly.

Larry, yes, and sod's law will certainly apply more and more as we learn to pack more and more energy in smaller containers.

Dan, I've been reading up on this stuff for quite a while and I do wonder if the solution will be a multiple one: hundreds of different ways of converting, saving or storing energy. Present hybrids are marking out that course. Maybe the car will have paint on it that converts sunlight to electricity, but also like a butterfly's wing reduces drag.

Fred Schlachter said...

See http://www.aps.org/publications/apsnews/201208/backpage.cfm

Dr. Fred Schlachter writes:

"“Moore’s Law” for Batteries?

Isn’t there some kind of “Moore’s Law” for batteries? Why is progress on improving battery capacity so slow compared to increases in computer-processing capacity? The essential answer is that electrons do not take up space in a processor, so their size does not limit processing capacity; limits are given by lithographic constraints. Ions in a battery, however, do take up space, and potentials are dictated by the thermodynamics of the relevant chemical reactions, so there only can be significant improvements in battery capacity by changing to a different chemistry."

Fred Schlachter said...

See http://www.aps.org/publications/apsnews/201208/backpage.cfm

Dr. Fred Schlachter writes:

"“Moore’s Law” for Batteries?

Isn’t there some kind of “Moore’s Law” for batteries? Why is progress on improving battery capacity so slow compared to increases in computer-processing capacity? The essential answer is that electrons do not take up space in a processor, so their size does not limit processing capacity; limits are given by lithographic constraints. Ions in a battery, however, do take up space, and potentials are dictated by the thermodynamics of the relevant chemical reactions, so there only can be significant improvements in battery capacity by changing to a different chemistry."

Fred Schlachter said...

Jordan, looking centuries into the future is dreaming. A century ago there was the very beginning of flight, no computers, no cell phones, no lots of stuff we take for granted now. Best to focus on the coming decade or two....and using anti-matter is beyond dreaming, the military has been talking about this for years...nice dream but will not happen in your of my lifetime.

Neal Asher, we have of course considered fuel cells and super-capacitors.

Fuel cells require hydrogen, which cannot be efficiently produced, transported, or stored. Or the can "reform" natural gas at some energy cost. However, PEM fuel cells, the only kind presently being considered for transportation, require a platinum catalyst, and are thus beyond consideration until catalysts are found which do not use platinum.

Capacitors store energy as charge rather than in chemical bonds, as is the case for batteries. The energy storage density of exceptionally low, and capacitors are bulky and expensive. They cannot be used to store energy for a car. They are useful only for providing quick power (power is the time rate of delivery of energy), thus useful for very short bursts only.

Dr. Fred Schlachter
American Physical Society