Even if you aren't an engineer you probably have become more aware of batteries because of the plethora of portable electronic equipment. Just take your cell phone that has become a part of your apparel. It's an annoyance when you have to charge your phone while in the middle of a conversation, or your PDA, drill, circular saw, robotic toy, etc. But it becomes significantly different when you are in a life-critical situation like the troops fighting a battle. It has been said that with so much electronic gear used by the military we can expect battle victories to balance on the portable power supply, and who has the best one.
Combat in Iraq points out the importance of understanding batteries. The troops found out that there are different types and capacities. When they prepared for combat, soldiers were instructed not to take any chances, and change the BA5590s at four hour intervals, severely affecting the predicted need for batteries. A new BA 5390 (Li/MnO2) cylindrical cell version of this battery has a capacity of approximately 10 Ah but can be as high as 12 Ah − almost doubling the life of primary batteries − but is that enough? This means that the troops still must rely on batteries and the vagaries of a supply line getting the batteries to the front.
The army has decided to break this addiction by funding research into alternative means of power including renewable power sources such as the flexible solar panel, which can be part of tent, and even carried, rolled up, in a backpack. Some of the designs use a nanotechnology-based solar panel that can be woven directly into fabric. It replaces silicon with dye polymer plastics that transform any kind of light into electrical energy. This has obvious advantages since the soldier no longer has to carry cumbersome and even heavy, generators and personal battery packs.
I expect some of this to trickle-down to the more common everyday uses such as commercial and industrial uses but what about consumer electronics? If you have any ideas I would like to hear them and you can add them to the Alternative Power Forum or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.