It was not until my Jet Propulsion Days in the late 1950’s and 1960’s that I was first exposed to other types of batteries. The Ranger and Mariner spacecraft were powered by solar panels and rechargeable sealed silver-zinc batteries (spacecraft definitely like sealed batteries). But I remember one time when my group was developing a Mars hard lander capable of handling a 10,000 g impact from a speed of 500 miles per hour (the payload was shrouded in crushable material – the program was later cancelled). I tried to find a battery capable of handling that level of shock, and failed. But even more interesting, I found that only a few battery companies existed, and there were few, if any, university programs or research efforts in advanced battery technology.
But now we seem to have gotten the message, not only because of the demand for small rechargeable batteries for our electronic devices, but also because we are finally understanding the advantages of electric cars and alternate forms of energy which require the storage of electricity. JPL, like Tesla, is using lithium ion batteries, and there is a large amount of work going on in both universities and industry in new approaches to batteries, both primary (single use), and secondary (re-chargeable.). An interesting comparison of energy storage is here, and more details on an early Tesla battery here.
It is about time that we get more serious about
electrical storage. Assuming that
electrical generation continues to become cleaner, we will continue to change
from petroleum-powered devices to electrical and we will need improved ability
to store electricity not only in these devices, but also for “alternate” energy
generation approaches. Although new
technologies are sometimes more challenging (note Boeing 787 and Sony past lithium
ion battery problems), times are changing. I certainly am now hooked on
battery-powered tools, which would be much less fun if powered by lead-acid or
primary batteries. I am looking forward to breakthroughs that are bound to come
from present research. Biological batteries?