Sunday, May 6, 2012

Are you tired of Li-ion yet? Then it’s time to go beyond it.

Those of you who are faithful followers of this blog (all 7 of you) should know that I come from the school of thought that you always need a better battery.  I even have a law for this, which I call the zeroth law of batteries and it states:

The performance of any battery will fall (just) short of our expectations irrespective of the complexity of the device it is powering.  

This is true for our cell phones and Roomba’s.  And true for electric cars and plug-in cars.

That is, unless you have low expectations. 

The world has seen some dramatic changes in battery technology over the last 20 years, ever since the Li-ion battery became commercial.  For one, the smartphone revolution would not have occurred if not for the batteries.  A lot of improvements are still possible with lithium-ion, and we project that battery energy densities will double when we succeed in controlling more energetic anode and cathode materials. 

But what happens after that?  At the pace at which my smartphone is evolving, with Retina Display screens, 4G networks, and movies playing off of the air, it’s hard to see a doubling in energy being enough. 

Question then is: What is after Li-ion batteries?  And is there something out there?

The answer is: Yes.  But getting there is not going to be easy. 

I wrote about this in two blog posts titled “A brief history of batteries- Part 1” and “Part 2”.  These two posts describe possible battery chemistries of the future and make the point that to succeed we really need to understand the past.  And it is written in the style of the movie “Pulp Fiction”. Can any battery textbook beat that?

I would suggest that you read this blog post first. 

Once you do that, you will want to know: So what is the progress in these chemistries in the two years that have elapsed since the blog post? 

You will get an answer to this question if you show up at the Claremont Hotel in Berkeley CA between June 5-7, 2012 (a month from today)*.  This will be the venue of the 5th in a series of symposia titled “Beyond Li-ion”.  In a 2 ½ day period various researchers, who are at the forefront of this field, will tell you what the latest trends are. 

It is an impressive speaker list, which you can see here

As a bonus, you will get to come to Berkeley Lab to see our Lab facilities.  More importantly, you may (I should emphasize the fact that this is a real possibility) actually get to shake my hand! 

To attend you will need to register, which you can do here.   

Hope to see you all (and I mean all 7 of you) there. 


p.s.  Please don’t ask me to waive your registration fee.  Being a co-organizer means that I write blog posts to promote the meeting. It does not mean that I can come up with the cash to pay for your meals.

* The previous version wrongly gave the date of the conference as July.  It is June 5-7, 2012  


  1. My expectations must be low, because I'm mostly concerned about Li-Ion (or any battery/fuel cell) replacing the ICE for autos, and not particularly worried about battery life for mobile devices.

    What is your opinion on Dr. Cui's recent result of achieving 6000 cycles using double-walled silicon nanotubes? Sounds very promising to a layperson, though my first question is the fab cost of these nanotubes. I assume they're quite expensive at the moment; any hope of them achieving a marketable price? Cost is almost always the biggest hurdle to alt energy.

    Good to see ya back.

  2. Good one, although I thought you were going to reveal something really new. Now that I ma here, can you pl. comment on F-ion batteries based on CuF2 cathodes...? Where you at the ECS-Seattle meeting...? I missed you.

  3. Dear Mr.Venkat,
    I am a 19 years old teen and I am really inspired by you to do research in battery, just like you. Now I am given 3 engineering course to choose: mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, chemical engineering. If I intend to follow your footstep to research in battery, which engineering course should I take?

    Thank you very much.

    Alex from Malaysia

    1. Alex- you GOT to choose chemical engineering. Its the only one that matters :-)


      Disclaimer: Neither the author of this post or his family/friends take any responsibility for careers gone awry. On the other hand, if things go well, the authors takes full credit.

  4. Are we going to get a review of the cutting edge battery technology discussed at the conference? Any new trends? Don't be such a tease.

  5. Venkat, random note:
    I bought a 2012 Volt and so if you are still contemplating actually buying an electric car I can give my real world usage (I commute from Dublin to Palo Alto (81 mile roundtrip).

    Bottom line is: a good car and the subsidies (both obvious and not) make this a cost effective car for the owner. Especially if you are a "professional" in the bay area and your choices would be higher-end cars vs the volt/leaf/etc.

  6. Wish I had discovered this blog 6 weeks ago

  7. Hi Venkat,

    I am working with a brand to build an engaging content community that covers topics relating to auto repair, auto safety and insurance.

    We’ve taken a read through your blog and we think you’ve done a fantastic job covering topics that our brand's audience would also be interested in covering. It would be great if you could join our community to help educate, inform and converse with those in the auto industry.

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  8. Li-ion battery are old style. We need something new

  9. How about some discussion on Envia battery for your next post?
    Would like to here unbiased information.
    Does it your for laws of batteries?

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  11. Interesting article. I have read your previous article about batteries part 1 and part 2. Even i know at the pace at which smartphone is evolving with good speed and Retina Display screens its too hard for the engineers to develop such batteries for smartphones. Li-ion batteries will be the upcoming batteries which will be doubling the power of batteries.

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