Is rapid charging the answer to current battery life woes?

Taylor Martin
 from  Concord, NC
| Published: August 15, 2012

In general, smartphone battery life is miserable, especially in comparison to what it was just a few short years ago. While the pocket-sized, personal computers are immensely more capable and powerful, battery technology has remained mostly unchanged. With the exception of adding a few more milliampere-hours to the power supply, very little has been done to improve the ever-waning battery life.

On a good day, both of my phones last until about 5:00 or 6:00 PM before needing an hour or more of charging to make it the rest of the day. If I'm lucky, the iPhone will make it through an entire day of relatively heavy use. But I'm not usually that lucky. Something always comes up, I end up needing to use my phone more than "normal" and it's sputtering on its last few minutes by 4:00 PM. Or maybe some rogue application has a heyday with the battery on the One X and it's dead just a few hours after unplugging it.

When you compare this to the days of battery life I used to get out of my BlackBerrys, regardless of use, there is a clear difference in what we consider decent in terms of battery life. And the flexibility of terms "mobile" and "wireless" have changed, too. I spend a good hour or two each day giving my smartphones supplementary charges. Sure, I can do that with my backpack now, but the point is plain and simple: I spend entirely too much time charging my smartphones.

Just minutes after I leave the house each day, I'm left wondering whether my phones will make it through the day, whether I will have a dead phone before I return home or how many times I will have to plug it (them) up to my Powerbag.

Granted, I know I stress over it more than some (and likely more than anyone should). But let's be honest, (with the exception of laptops) battery life is something no one should have to worry about. Yet here I am carrying a backpack with a battery charger inside and a tangle of USB cables so I can charge from my laptop if need be. And if I could, I would carry spare batteries for each phone. However, my current phones have integrated, non-replaceable batteries.

Like most of us battery mongers, I have been scouring the web and my RSS feeds in hopes of finally coming across a headline declaring the next generation in mobile battery technology, a story about a successful manufacturing process and deals being worked out with mobile hardware manufacturers.

Unfortunately, that day has yet to come. There are no battery technology breakthroughs to report just yet – that is, ones that are ready for prime time. However, a handful of promising advancements, innovations and discoveries have been made in 2012 alone. Of those, one reported by Engadget earlier this evening is easily the most encouraging yet.

Yonhap News Agency reported on Monday that South Korea's Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology has developed a technique that could cut battery charging times to a fraction of what they are today – 1/30 or 1/120 of current charge times. Yonhap explains:

"Conventional batteries use only powdered nanoparticle materials to form a dense, multi-layered structure that can store and give off energy.

The new battery, on the other hand, uses the same type of nanoparticle materials that are first resolved in a solution that contains graphite, which later is carbonized to form a dense network of conductors all throughout the electrodes of the battery, the ministry said.

As a result, all energy-holding particles of the new battery start recharging simultaneously while the same particles in conventional batteries begin recharging in order from the outermost particles to the innermost.

This cuts down on the time needed to recharge the new type of battery to between 1/30 and 1/120 of that of existing rechargeable batteries, according to the ministry."

The claim is that lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles could be fully recharged in less than a minute versus several hours. Imagine a similar technology in smartphone cells. While it might not help improve current smartphone's stamina, theoretically, it could shorten the time it takes to recharge the battery to mere seconds. In theory, if this sort of technology could be combined with a high capacity battery (not unlike the one found in the DROID RAZR MAXX) in a high-end smartphone, you could have a phone that could easily last an entire day (or more) on a single charge and have it completely recharge from dead in less than a minute.

I'm trying my best not to drool over my keyboard … and to not get too terribly excited. Something like this could be years from being ready for consumer electronics, if ever. There was no official mention of mobile batteries or portable electronics. The focus seems to be on larger batteries, such as those in electric vehicles. However, it would only make sense that this technology would trickle down to portable electronics, too. Right?

Either way, I could be on board with something like this. I could live with poor battery life if it only took my phone a matter of seconds to charge. Right now, I'm looking at no less than an hour an a half to completely recharge, which effectively makes public charging problematic and time-consuming. With a rapid recharge, public recharge stations and Powerbags would be a dream come true. My phones might die all the time, but that would no longer be a real problem – find an outlet, plug in for a minute and go about your business as if nothing ever happened.

It sounds like pure bluss to me …