Research into battery technology has led to a new form of battery that may one day replace lithium-ion batteries and extend battery life well beyond that of what we have today. Most manufacturers rate lithium-ion batteries for 1,000 charge-discharge cycles or less. The new battery, called a flow battery, stores energy as liquid solutions with a component that doesn’t decompose. Flow batteries might last as long as 10 years.
Far from attempting to scale the flow battery for use in tiny wireless communications devices and some of the present and future things within the internet of things, present research seems oriented toward scaling the flow battery to an enormous size. Huge flow batteries would take power from renewable power generation, such as wind, solar and hydro, and store it to supply energy to the electrical grid when real-time renewable power generation is low — during darkness, and calm wind and seas.
It can take time for new technology to become pervasive. AT&T spoke of fiber-optic cable in the 1960s, yet its microwave networks continued to serve long-distance telecommunications for decades. At Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers meetings decades ago, engineers spoke of beamforming antennas that only in recent years began appearing in plans for mobile communications networks. Anticipated use of millimeter-wave frequencies made the difference in the practicality of beamforming.
News of the flow battery came from the American Chemical Society, which has published a paper on the subject by researchers Eugene S. Beh, Diana De Porcellinis, Rebecca Garcia, Kay Xia, Roy G. Gordon and Michael Aziz.
Meanwhile, mobile network operators are making extensive use of fiber-optic cable to connect base stations ranging from macro sites to small cells. Beamforming antennas play a role in plans for 5G wireless communications technology that seems likely to be deployed in the United States within a few years. Perhaps both the networks and the user devices they serve will one day be powered by flow batteries that will outlast several generations of wireless communications technology.
Manufacturers expect the first release of the Third Generation Partnership Project 5G specification in 2018. To be ready in time for the release, IBM and Ericsson have created beamforming antennas that support data rates exceeding 10 Gbps with low latency and low energy requirements that will tap batteries for the least possible power, extending operating life even from the current battery technologies.