10 ChemMatters | DECEMBER 2017/JANUAR Y 2018 www.acs.org/chemmatters
By Fedor Kossakovski
IREMEMBER MY FIRST CELL PHONE. IT WAS A NOKIA 3220—a dark-blue brick with thick, white rubber edges that lit up with every call or text. That
phone lasted me through all of middle
school and, during that time, I probably
charged it five times.
OK, maybe more than five times. That
brick of a phone felt like it held a charge
forever—it was not as smart or powerful
as phones today. I worried more about my
parents seeing the phone bill I racked up
than about the amount of battery charge I
Now, I have the reverse problem: I worry
about my battery more than the data costs.
The browser on my smartphone is a full-fledged Safari analogue. But now I charge my
phone every day. Sometimes, twice a day!
Watching my battery die right before my
eyes as I scrolled through Instagram was
the exact moment I decided to figure out
why my current smartphone battery performs worse than my old Nokia’s battery.
How do these batteries work, anyway?
Are there any breakthroughs that could, in
the future, make batteries hold more of a
charge and last longer?
Extending battery life
I quickly found that I was not the only
one to experience this battery-drainage
issue. Scotty Loveless, a smartphone
expert, told me that his customers come
back “two, three, and even four times for the
same problem.” Their smartphones go from
full charge to zero in less than a day.
Loveless did some experimentation and
wrote a blog post with usage recommendations to improve battery life between
charges. He suggests turning off background
app refresh—the feature that allows a smartphone to connect to the internet to update
applications even after you close them.
What’s the easiest way to improve
battery life? Stop turning on your
phone’s screen to check for
notifications. I tried Loveless’s tips
and, although the few hours’
improvement of battery life was
noticeable, it wasn’t the improve-
ment I was looking for. I knew that the
increase in battery life would only improve a
few percentage points, but I was hoping to
have my smartphone reborn with the vigor
of my old Nokia and that it would last a
week on a single charge.
After spending some time on Google, I
stumbled across a great source of information regarding batteries: a website called
Battery University. It has lectures on topics
such as “When Was the Battery Invented?”
and “Battery Chemistries.” There was so
much material so I called Isidor Buchmann,
the founder of the website, to learn more.
Buchmann is also the chief executive officer of battery technologies company Cadex
“Batteries have improved,” Buchmann
told me. “They have higher capacities, but
the demand on batteries is much higher.
If you send data, it takes three to four
times the amount of power to transmit as
opposed to talking.” A lot of other factors
reduce our battery life, Buchmann said.
For example, if you are in a “noisy” cellular
environment with a lot of other phones,
your phone has to create a more powerful
signal to communicate with the nearest
cell tower. It’s no different than being in a
restaurant, “you have to shout to be heard
when sitting next to a table with a loud
crowd of people,” he said.
Buchmann’s main recommendation is
not to let your battery discharge all the
way and to charge it frequently. Lithium-ion batteries, the dominant
type of rechargeable battery in
modern electronics, work better and last longer when they
are moving their charge back
and forth. “For example, lithium-ion
batteries in satellites have to last for a long
time because they are hard to replace,”
Buchmann said. “Their batteries discharge from 100% to 60% before they are