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Battery Advances, Wireless Power Poised to Make Charging Less of a Problem

Firms perfecting hydrogen fuel cells, solar shingles, harvesting energy from radio waves

Timberline Shingles
GAF Energy

The way we juice up our devices, cars, even entire homes, runs the gamut, but one thing remains constant: our basic desire to charge things without having to fret about batteries that are about to peter out or wreck the environment.

For most of us, the less we think about charging or replacing batteries, the better. That’s especially true as people age.

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“Your gadgets and things are there to take care of you, not you take care of your gadgets,” says Charlie Greene, chief operating and technical officer of Powercast Corp. The Pittsburgh-based “over-the-air” power company is exhibiting this week in Las Vegas at CES, formerly the Consumer Electronics Show, demonstrating how devices such as electric toothbrushes and 3D printed medical-based wearables developed by the University of Arizona can be charged wirelessly by being placed within a few feet of a transmitter.

Power to change personal transportation

Several other companies are showcasing products and technologies that are variations on the power theme.

Japanese electronics giant Sony unveiled an all-electric Sony Vision-S 02 SUV concept car. In launching a new company called Sony Mobility, Sony signaled it is ready to plunge into the electric vehicle (EV) market.

A more traditional automaker, BMW, is generating buzz at CES for another reason. At the push of a button, BMW's electric concept SUV changes its exterior color. The BMW iX Flow employs a coat of the same kind of E Ink technology that has been used for years in e-readers.

While it’s not all about the aesthetics, the ability to change a car's hue on a whim might reduce some of the stress buyers feel when they can’t decide between a blue model and a black one. But a functional element is also at work that ties in with saving power.

“By changing color, we can change sunlight reflection and thus change the thermal properties of the car,” BMW says.

French startup MACA is hyping a very different mode of transport, touting a one-third-sized model of a commercial flying race car that uses clean-burning hydrogen fuel cells. MACA says an actual “carcopter” will debut in 2023.

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Hope for a better small battery

Decidedly more down-to-earth exhibitors include companies with technology advances in battery power that will start showing up in other products down the road. Enovix’s chief executive officer and cofounder, Harrold Rust, says his Silicon Valley-based company has come up with new battery design that can double the energy density of the standard lithium-ion batteries used in phones, laptops, tablets and wearables.

Tips to Maximize Battery Life

“The consumer electronics space is dying for better batteries.” Rust says.

Solar shingles that install like asphalt shingles

San Jose, California-based GAF Energy launched Timberland Solar, which the company says is the only roofing to put solar panel technology into shingles that can be fastened with a nail gun and installed like asphalt roof shingles. The price of Timberland shingles will square with the cost of a new roof with more conventional shingles and tack-mounted solar panels, according to GAF Energy. Timberland Solar shingles are available in Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia, with additional states to follow.

GAF Energy is the sister company of GAF, which it says is behind 1 out of every 4 roof installations in the U.S. and is the largest roofing and waterproofing company in North America. GAF and GAF Energy are subsidiaries of New York-based Standard Industries.

GAF Energy said it worked with Sandia National Laboratories, a U.S. Department of Energy contracted research and development lab, to verify Timberland Solar’s “strength, durability and overall market-readiness.” In a statement, GAF Energy President Martin DeBono proclaimed solar roofs “the future of clean energy.”

This TV remote needs no disposable batteries

Samsung Eco Remote
Samsung

Last year, Samsung came out with a TV remote control that relied on solar power rather than standard disposable off-the-shelf batteries, allowing it to be charged with sunlight or indoor light. This year, Samsung is doubling down.

Its new Eco Remote is solar powered but also equipped with radio frequency (RF) harvesting technology. That means it can be charged even at night using radio waves converted into energy from wireless routers and other devices in the home.

The new remote pairs with Samsung’s 2022 lineup of televisions and initially will not be sold separately. In keeping with an emphasis on environmentally friendly technology, the wand-shaped remote is built out of eco-friendly materials.

 

Charge your phone anywhere in the car

Illustration of car interior with Aira FreePower Technology wireless charging platform installed.
Aira

Many people are accustomed to charging phones and other devices wirelessly in the car by placing them in a cubby or on a rail to hold the device in place, sometimes with mixed results. The FreePower for Automotive technology that Chandler, Arizona-based Aira says it has developed will let you place a handset that allows wireless charging pretty much on any surface of the car, or at least in an area where an automaker chooses.

More than one device can be charged at the same time, which may help you avoid fights with family members clamoring to use the one charger in your vehicle. Earbuds and other devices that meet the Qi (pronounced “chee”) industry wireless standard also can be charged.

You can also throw down your credit cards and keys without having to worry about FreePower damaging them, says Aira’s chief operating officer, Simon McElrea. The technology will start showing up in vehicles by the end of 2022.

“The dream about wireless charging is forgetting about charging,” he says.

5 electrifying facts about batteries

We’ve all got a drawer, shoebox or bin filled with new AA, AAA and 9-volt batteries — though never, seemingly, the ones we need in the moment.

Yet increasingly, that collection is less useful. From laptops and flashlights to lawn mowers and doorbells, we live in a world of rechargeable batteries.

Even with advances in rechargeable technology, lithium-ion batteries, the type used now in cellphones, laptops, electric vehicles and many more devices, will remain the standard for a long time. The market is expected to grow by a factor of 5 to 10 times in the next decade, the Federal Consortium for Advanced Batteries predicts. That organization has a goal of recycling 90 percent of electric vehicle, grid-storage and consumer electronics batteries by 2030.

1. Evolving technology. Research is underway to make rechargeable batteries safer, including the addition of built-in fire extinguishers in case of catastrophic overheating.

2. A good deal. A single rechargeable battery will do the job of 10 disposable alkaline batteries over four years on average, according to the website Wirecutter.

3. An old concept. The oldest type of rechargeable battery is lead acid, the kind used to start gas-powered cars.

4. Older than you might think. Benjamin Franklin coined the term “electrical battery” in 1749.

5. New demand. Apple’s iPhone, launched in 2007, was key to popularizing rechargeable devices. Its internal battery is not removable.

— Chris Morris​