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Batteries: The Fulcrum of Destruction

Storage is critical for the future | Precious materials used for batteries come at too great a price | Current technology is going to stick around—and that’s bad

 

From large-scale power grids to the tiny electronics in your pocket and on your wrist, powering our world is limited at best. Your phone lasts how long before needing a charge? Maybe a day? And solar power just hasn’t taken off like they promised us it would back in the 80s. That’s because we keep running into the problem of storage. And changing it might actually bring its own host of woes.

Storage takes significant toll

To really move past our current stage in technology, storage needs to be addressed. The limiting factor of electronics is always the battery life. I am typing this post out on a laptop whose battery has experienced a critical issue, which requires the device to be plugged in constantly; making this highly portable device into nothing more than a really skinny desktop computer.

As absolute a reality as death and taxes, batteries degrade over time. This unfortunately fast-tracks devices to the landfill. It could be argued that the number-one reason people toss their personal devices is because of battery performance. And even standard AA and AAA batteries wind up on the trash pile by the billions each year (We’ll get to the damage batteries cause to the environment in another post). Just consider the positive change in e-waste we would see for our devices if power options could be improved!

Green energy is no stranger to this dilemma either. On the grid, Green is only as good as the next sunny day or gust of wind; all because storage isn’t viable. If the large-scale storage dilemma was solved, there would be no contest between green energy and fossil fuels. But there are two major concerns when it comes to bettering our batteries: materials and science.

A Pound of Flesh

Currently, gathering the materials used to make batteries is a bit like reading the most horrible shopping list possible. Whether extremely scarce, blocked by a military coup, or causing cancer in California, what goes into making power portable or long-lasting is, well, problematic.

The worst offender for our storage solution is the conflict minerals that are required to produce most batteries. In the mines where many of the materials electronic devices are made from, there are either military forces that need to be paid off to bypass, or slave labor to exhume the precious materials, or both. Either way, atrocities abound in the quest for storage.

This bloody battle for materials only worsens the more we seek a solution to our storage concerns. Only, it’s not just sourcing new materials that’s horrible. What we do with our current devices is just as bad. Many of our gadgets’ toxicity comes from the batteries themselves. And when IT assets land in trash heaps across the world, water tables and air quality suffer.

And science has been seeking a solution to energy ever since Franklin flew his kite. Electricity, unlike every other source of power we have, is the only power source that has to be created in order to use. Coal, wood, oil, even methane are all things that can be stored relatively easily. Those sources of energy are always ready to be put into action no matter how far and in-between you need it. But electricity is tricky, and has been having scientists scratch their heads for decades.

An ever-ready solution

No matter how long lasting your batteries ever become, the issue of what to do with electronic waste will be an ongoing problem for our species. But, thankfully, there is a solution. Sustainably disposing of your e-waste, whether by refurbishment and resale or disassembly and recycling, can reduce the downstream complications that come from using technology.

And using devices longer can diminish the insatiable demand for blood minerals. The longer we use our devices, the fewer new models manufacturers can sell. And while this seems like a drop in the bucket, over time consumer demand can force monumental manufacturer change. Without the demand, the manufacturers will have to rethink their strategy of designed obsolescence.