While some might mourn news Apple won’t upgrade the 27-in. iMac with Apple Silicon, today’s most interesting speculation says the company is developing its own battery technology — and might introduce its own designs into mobile devices as soon as 2025.
It makes sense.
We know Apple has spent time on battery technology. In 2018, it hired Soonho Ahn, Samsung’s senior vice president, next generation batteries and materials innovation. Ahn stayed on as the Global Head of Battery Developments for three years before taking a new post as CTO of Volkswagen’s battery division.
As Ahn’s departure displays, Apple is not alone in attempting to move toward more advanced, low-cost battery technologies. Their development is of strategic importance as the number of devices reliant on batteries grows exponentially. While a large amount of battery research is going on, bringing new designs to market seems a slow process. But Apple has the clout to make it happen; not only can it make new tech pervasive with just one streamed event, it also has the money and commitment to carbon-neutral production to take the risk.
So, what’s the speculation?
Citing “industry sources,” Korea’s ET News claims Apple is working across the battery design process to build something that hasn’t been commercialized before. It mentions use of innovative new designs to get more from standard battery materials such as nickel or cobalt.
It seems to suggest the company has found new conductive materials that can improve battery performance. At its simplest, the report suggests Apple wants to build batteries that charge faster and last longer.
The report has legs. After all, it was only this year that Apple patent filings showed the company to be working with US government researchers on something called Synergistic Additives for High Volume Lithium Ion Batteries. That patent also alluded to the use of new materials to extend usable battery life and accelerate the charging cycle.
Adding a little more substance to the gruel, we can see that the use of new substrates and conductive materials is very much in vogue across the industry, particularly since the publication of MIT research that found it is possible to accelerate lithium charging speed by changing the substrate around the battery. There seems to be a quiet race toward such tech, so there’s no reason Apple wouldn’t also be in the running. It does, after all, make millions of battery-powered devices.
But what about the environment?
With only 5% of the world’s lithium batteries being recycled, it could be relevant that electric vehicle start-up Britishvolt linked up with long-time Apple materials supplier Glencore to develop a lithium-ion battery recycling center in the UK last year.
Glencore, which already claims to be the leading lithium-ion battery recycler in North America, is also building battery recycling centers in Italy, Spain, and Portugal. The company aims to become a leading circular economy company, something that frankly screams of synergy with Apple, which seeks to become 100% carbon neutral across its business by 2030.
Apple has previously vowed to only use recycled cobalt in batteries by 2025 and says a quarter of the cobalt used in its batteries now already comes from recycled materials.
Why this matters
“We seek to one day use only recycled and renewable minerals and materials in our products and packaging, and are committed to achieving carbon neutrality for our entire footprint by 2030 — from our supply chain to the use of the products we make,” Apple explained in its SEC Form SD filing in 2022.
It is a problem that some of the most essential materials used in power cells are finite, and some analysts predict global demand for some materials will outweigh supply by the end of the decade. That’s part of what drives recycling initiatives, such as at Glencore.
However, the problem with recycling is that apparently during the process, some of these substances are exposed to air, which means they oxidize and become harder to reuse. That’s why extending the usable life of batteries makes such a difference. It’s not just about battery life or fast-charging, it’s also about making batteries that last longer before they need to be replaced and recycled.
One more thing
Apple has another card to play when it comes to energy cells. It already has 1 billion battery-powered devices in the wild, providing it with any insights it can glean from the Battery Health software built inside iPhones.
Information about current charge, battery performance, and a person’s battery charging habits already support smart energy management on your devices. Those insights could legitimately inform AI-supported on-device energy management.
But that kind of on-board intelligent energy management becomes even more powerful if the device can actually communicate with the battery itself, which logically becomes far more possible in the event Apple makes its own.
Pulling all these breadcrumbs together, it makes complete sense to imagine Apple devices will in the future hold batteries that do not degrade so swiftly, recharge faster, hold a charge longer, and are manufactured using recycled materials.
Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.
This story originally Appeared on Computerworld