Written by Athena Cai
Electronic devices have grown to become increasingly important as different aspects of our daily lives become more digitized. When consumers shop for new smartphones or laptops, one of the most important things they’ll consider is the battery life of the device. Will the device last the entire day or will they need to track down a power outlet once every few hours?
Given a couple months of use any user will notice that their electronics require charging more often than they used to. When I first bought my smartphone, it’s capacity for battery life was around ten hours. A year later, it’s closer to five hours. The older the device, the shorter the battery life. Why does this happen?
Lithium-ion batteries power most of our mobile electronics, electric vehicles, and wind and solar energy systems. These batteries have three main parts; the cathode, anode, and electrolyte. To produce voltage and current in a battery, a reduction-oxidation reaction occurs. In other words, there is an exchange of electrons in which the anode loses electrons to the cathode. The reaction reverses when the battery charges again.
However, when the battery recharges the replacement of the negative and positive ions isn’t as neat as it once was. The battery’s crystal structures become unorganized and there is a loss of storage material in the cathode and anode. This results in a less efficient battery and a charge capacity that fades with each charge.
The unfortunate impacts
Once a device and its battery has been deemed useless after losing much of its charge capacity; the owner may toss it out and buy a replacement. The problem with this is, lithium-ion batteries that end up in landfills become toxic waste because of the heavy metals they are made of. This waste contaminates groundwater and damages ecosystems, becoming harmful to both humans and wildlife.
To counter these effects scientists suggest recycling or reusing old batteries. I think introducing non-toxic batteries made out of different materials would also curb the damage caused by our needs for electricity. Science explains one of technology users’ greatest pet peeves; a problem costing the world in more ways than one might expect.
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