Most laptop and smartphone users may not care too much about the nitty-gritty physics that take place in their batteries during a charge cycle. They probably care much more about how long it takes to charge a battery, and how much weight it adds to PCs and other devices.
Most people probably don’t know that after their batteries reach about 80% of charge capacity an equal amount of time may be expended completing the remaining 20% in order to fully top off a battery. That happens because the charging hardware has to make some rough and not very accurate estimates of a battery’s level of charge. Typically that is accomplished by measuring amperage and voltage to monitor a battery’s behavior. When those crude measurements signal that the charge may be approaching completion, the rate of charge is drastically reduced to prevent damage to the battery in the event of a miscalculation.
The result is that batteries have to be larger, over-designed, over-weight, and more costly.
Bring in the Rocket-Scientists
That UCSD research program is the result of a $9.6-million grant from the Department of Energy’s research agency know as ARPA-E, in conjunction with battery manufacturer Cobasys and automotive products supplier Bosch. UCSD’s share of that grant is about $460,000.
One of the lead researchers said the algorithms being developed allow for operating “right at the battery’s limits without damaging it”. Those UCSD engineers may not specifically be rocket-scientists, but close enough; and even better for the kind of work they’re doing.
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